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A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers by Henry David Thoreau

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^small caps^

A paragraph with a margin of two spaces represents a quotation,
represented in the text by a smaller type.

A series of lines indented three or more spaces represent poetry:
spaces, end of lines and empty lines should be preserved.










Where'er thou sail'st who sailed with me,
Though now thou climbest loftier mounts,
And fairer rivers dost ascend,
Be thou my Muse, my Brother--.


I am bound, I am bound, for a distant shore,
By a lonely isle, by a far Azore,
There it is, there it is, the treasure I seek,
On the barren sands of a desolate creek.


I sailed up a river with a pleasant wind,
New lands, new people, and new thoughts to find;
Many fair reaches and headlands appeared,
And many dangers were there to be feared;
But when I remember where I have been,
And the fair landscapes that I have seen,
^Thou^ seemest the only permanent shore,
The cape never rounded, nor wandered o'er.


Fluminaque obliquis cinxit declivia ripis;
Quae, diversa locis, partim sorbentur ab ipsa;
In mare perveniunt partim, campoque recepta
Liberioris aquae, pro ripis litora pulsant.
^Ovid^, Met. I. 39

He confined the rivers within their sloping banks,
Which in different places are part absorbed by the earth,
Part reach the sea, and being received within the plain
Of its freer waters, beat the shore for banks.



"Beneath low hills, in the broad interval
Through which at will our Indian rivulet
Winds mindful still of sannup and of squaw,
Whose pipe and arrow oft the plough unburies,
Here, in pine houses, built of new-fallen trees,
Supplanters of the tribe, the farmers dwell."


The Musketaquid, or Grass-ground River, though probably as old as
the Nile or Euphrates, did not begin to have a place in civilized
history, until the fame of its grassy meadows and its fish
attracted settlers out of England in 1635, when it received the
other but kindred name of ^Concord^ from the first plantation on
its banks, which appears to have been commenced in a spirit of
peace and harmony. It will be Grass-ground River as long as grass
grows and water runs here; it will be Concord River only while
men lead peaceable lives on its banks. To an extinct race it was
grass-ground, where they hunted and fished, and it is still
perennial grass-ground to Concord farmers, who own the Great
Meadows, and get the hay from year to year. "One branch of it,"
according to the historian of Concord, for I love to quote so
good authority, "rises in the south part of Hopkinton, and
another from a pond and a large cedar-swamp in Westborough," and
flowing between Hopkinton and Southborough, through Framingham,
and between Sudbury and Wayland, where it is sometimes called
Sudbury River, it enters Concord at the south part of the town,
and after receiving the North or Assabeth River, which has its
source a little farther to the north and west, goes out at the
northeast angle, and flowing between Bedford and Carlisle, and
through Billerica, empties into the Merrimack at Lowell. In
Concord it is, in summer, from four to fifteen feet deep, and
from one hundred to three hundred feet wide, but in the spring
freshets, when it overflows its banks, it is in some places
nearly a mile wide. Between Sudbury and Wayland the meadows
acquire their greatest breadth, and when covered with water, they
form a handsome chain of shallow vernal lakes, resorted to by
numerous gulls and ducks. Just above Sherman's Bridge, between
these towns, is the largest expanse, and when the wind blows
freshly in a raw March day, heaving up the surface into dark and
sober billows or regular swells, skirted as it is in the distance
with alder-swamps and smoke-like maples, it looks like a smaller
Lake Huron, and is very pleasant and exciting for a landsman to
row or sail over. The farm-houses along the Sudbury shore, which
rises gently to a considerable height, command fine water
prospects at this season. The shore is more flat on the Wayland
side, and this town is the greatest loser by the flood. Its
farmers tell me that thousands of acres are flooded now, since
the dams have been erected, where they remember to have seen the
white honeysuckle or clover growing once, and they could go dry
with shoes only in summer. Now there is nothing but blue-joint
and sedge and cut-grass there, standing in water all the year
round. For a long time, they made the most of the driest season
to get their hay, working sometimes till nine o'clock at night,
sedulously paring with their scythes in the twilight round the
hummocks left by the ice; but now it is not worth the getting
when they can come at it, and they look sadly round to their
wood-lots and upland as a last resource.

It is worth the while to make a voyage up this stream, if you go
no farther than Sudbury, only to see how much country there is in
the rear of us; great hills, and a hundred brooks, and
farm-houses, and barns, and haystacks, you never saw before, and
men everywhere, Sudbury, that is Southborough men, and Wayland,
and Nine-Acre-Corner men, and Bound Rock, where four towns bound
on a rock in the river, Lincoln, Wayland, Sudbury, Concord. Many
waves are there agitated by the wind, keeping nature fresh, the
spray blowing in your face, reeds and rushes waving; ducks by the
hundred, all uneasy in the surf, in the raw wind, just ready to
rise, and now going off with a clatter and a whistling like
riggers straight for Labrador, flying against the stiff gale with
reefed wings, or else circling round first, with all their
paddles briskly moving, just over the surf, to reconnoitre you
before they leave these parts; gulls wheeling overhead, muskrats
swimming for dear life, wet and cold, with no fire to warm them
by that you know of; their labored homes rising here and there
like haystacks; and countless mice and moles and winged titmice
along the sunny windy shore; cranberries tossed on the waves and
heaving up on the beach, their little red skiffs beating about
among the alders;--such healthy natural tumult as proves the last
day is not yet at hand. And there stand all around the alders,
and birches, and oaks, and maples full of glee and sap, holding
in their buds until the waters subside. You shall perhaps run
aground on Cranberry Island, only some spires of last year's
pipe-grass above water, to show where the danger is, and get as
good a freezing there as anywhere on the Northwest Coast. I never
voyaged so far in all my life. You shall see men you never heard
of before, whose names you don't know, going away down through
the meadows with long ducking-guns, with water-tight boots wading
through the fowl-meadow grass, on bleak, wintry, distant shores,
with guns at half-cock, and they shall see teal, blue-winged,
green-winged, shelldrakes, whistlers, black ducks, ospreys, and
many other wild and noble sights before night, such as they who
sit in parlors never dream of. You shall see rude and sturdy,
experienced and wise men, keeping their castles, or teaming up
their summer's wood, or chopping alone in the woods, men fuller
of talk and rare adventure in the sun and wind and rain, than a
chestnut is of meat; who were out not only in '75 and 1812, but
have been out every day of their lives; greater men than Homer,
or Chaucer, or Shakespeare, only they never got time to say so;
they never took to the way of writing. Look at their fields, and
imagine what they might write, if ever they should put pen to
paper. Or what have they not written on the face of the earth
already, clearing, and burning, and scratching, and harrowing,
and ploughing, and subsoiling, in and in, and out and out, and
over and over, again and again, erasing what they had already
written for want of parchment.

As yesterday and the historical ages are past, as the work of
to-day is present, so some flitting perspectives, and
demi-experiences of the life that is in nature are in time
veritably future, or rather outside to time, perennial, young,
divine, in the wind and rain which never die.

The respectable folks,--
Where dwell they?
They whisper in the oaks,
And they sigh in the hay;
Summer and winter, night and day,
Out on the meadow, there dwell they.
They never die,
Nor snivel, nor cry,
Nor ask our pity
With a wet eye.
A sound estate they ever mend
To every asker readily lend;
To the ocean wealth,
To the meadow health,
To Time his length,
To the rocks strength,
To the stars light,
To the weary night,
To the busy day,
To the idle play;
And so their good cheer never ends,
For all are their debtors, and all their friends.

Concord River is remarkable for the gentleness of its current,
which is scarcely perceptible, and some have referred to its
influence the proverbial moderation of the inhabitants of
Concord, as exhibited in the Revolution, and on later occasions.
It has been proposed, that the town should adopt for its coat of
arms a field verdant, with the Concord circling nine times round.
I have read that a descent of an eighth of an inch in a mile is
sufficient to produce a flow. Our river has, probably, very near
the smallest allowance. The story is current, at any rate,
though I believe that strict history will not bear it out, that
the only bridge ever carried away on the main branch, within the
limits of the town, was driven up stream by the wind. But
wherever it makes a sudden bend it is shallower and swifter, and
asserts its title to be called a river. Compared with the other
tributaries of the Merrimack, it appears to have been properly
named Musketaquid, or Meadow River, by the Indians. For the most
part, it creeps through broad meadows, adorned with scattered
oaks, where the cranberry is found in abundance, covering the
ground like a moss-bed. A row of sunken dwarf willows borders
the stream on one or both sides, while at a greater distance the
meadow is skirted with maples, alders, and other fluviatile
trees, overrun with the grape-vine, which bears fruit in its
season, purple, red, white, and other grapes. Still farther from
the stream, on the edge of the firm land, are seen the gray and
white dwellings of the inhabitants. According to the valuation
of 1831, there were in Concord two thousand one hundred and
eleven acres, or about one seventh of the whole territory in
meadow; this standing next in the list after pasturage and
unimproved lands, and, judging from the returns of previous
years, the meadow is not reclaimed so fast as the woods are

Let us here read what old Johnson says of these meadows in his
"Wonder-working Providence," which gives the account of New
England from 1628 to 1652, and see how matters looked to him. He
says of the Twelfth Church of Christ gathered at Concord: "This
town is seated upon a fair fresh river, whose rivulets are filled
with fresh marsh, and her streams with fish, it being a branch of
that large river of Merrimack. Allwifes and shad in their season
come up to this town, but salmon and dace cannot come up, by
reason of the rocky falls, which causeth their meadows to lie
much covered with water, the which these people, together with
their neighbor town, have several times essayed to cut through
but cannot, yet it may be turned another way with an hundred
pound charge as it appeared." As to their farming he says:
"Having laid out their estate upon cattle at 5 to 20 pound a cow,
when they came to winter them with inland hay, and feed upon such
wild fother as was never cut before, they could not hold out the
winter, but, ordinarily the first or second year after their
coming up to a new plantation, many of their cattle died." And
this from the same author "Of the Planting of the 19th Church in
the Mattachusets' Government, called Sudbury": "This year [does
he mean 1654] the town and church of Christ at Sudbury began to
have the first foundation stones laid, taking up her station in
the inland country, as her elder sister Concord had formerly
done, lying further up the same river, being furnished with great
plenty of fresh marsh, but, it lying very low is much indamaged
with land floods, insomuch that when the summer proves wet they
lose part of their hay; yet are they so sufficiently provided
that they take in cattle of other towns to winter."

The sluggish artery of the Concord meadows steals thus unobserved
through the town, without a murmur or a pulse-beat, its general
course from southwest to northeast, and its length about fifty
miles; a huge volume of matter, ceaselessly rolling through the
plains and valleys of the substantial earth with the moccasoned
tread of an Indian warrior, making haste from the high places of
the earth to its ancient reservoir. The murmurs of many a famous
river on the other side of the globe reach even to us here, as to
more distant dwellers on its banks; many a poet's stream floating
the helms and shields of heroes on its bosom. The Xanthus or
Scamander is not a mere dry channel and bed of a mountain
torrent, but fed by the everflowing springs of fame;--

"And thou Simois, that as an arrowe, clere
Through Troy rennest, aie downward to the sea";--

and I trust that I may be allowed to associate our muddy but much
abused Concord River with the most famous in history.

"Sure there are poets which did never dream
Upon Parnassus, nor did taste the stream
Of Helicon; we therefore may suppose
Those made not poets, but the poets those."

The Mississippi, the Ganges, and the Nile, those journeying atoms
from the Rocky Mountains, the Himmaleh, and Mountains of the
Moon, have a kind of personal importance in the annals of the
world. The heavens are not yet drained over their sources, but
the Mountains of the Moon still send their annual tribute to the
Pasha without fail, as they did to the Pharaohs, though he must
collect the rest of his revenue at the point of the sword.
Rivers must have been the guides which conducted the footsteps of
the first travellers. They are the constant lure, when they flow
by our doors, to distant enterprise and adventure, and, by a
natural impulse, the dwellers on their banks will at length
accompany their currents to the lowlands of the globe, or explore
at their invitation the interior of continents. They are the
natural highways of all nations, not only levelling the ground
and removing obstacles from the path of the traveller, quenching
his thirst and bearing him on their bosoms, but conducting him
through the most interesting scenery, the most populous portions
of the globe, and where the animal and vegetable kingdoms attain
their greatest perfection.

I had often stood on the banks of the Concord, watching the lapse
of the current, an emblem of all progress, following the same law
with the system, with time, and all that is made; the weeds at
the bottom gently bending down the stream, shaken by the watery
wind, still planted where their seeds had sunk, but erelong to
die and go down likewise; the shining pebbles, not yet anxious to
better their condition, the chips and weeds, and occasional logs
and stems of trees that floated past, fulfilling their fate, were
objects of singular interest to me, and at last I resolved to
launch myself on its bosom and float whither it would bear me.



"Come, come, my lovely fair, and let us try
Those rural delicacies."
_Christ's Invitation to the Soul._ ^Quarles^




At length, on Saturday, the last day of August, 1839, we two,
brothers, and natives of Concord, weighed anchor in this river
port; for Concord, too, lies under the sun, a port of entry and
departure for the bodies as well as the souls of men; one shore
at least exempted from all duties but such as an honest man will
gladly discharge. A warm drizzling rain had obscured the
morning, and threatened to delay our voyage, but at length the
leaves and grass were dried, and it came out a mild afternoon, as
serene and fresh as if Nature were maturing some greater scheme
of her own. After this long dripping and oozing from every pore,
she began to respire again more healthily than ever. So with a
vigorous shove we launched our boat from the bank, while the
flags and bulrushes courtesied a God-speed, and dropped silently
down the stream.

Our boat, which had cost us a week's labor in the spring, was in
form like a fisherman's dory, fifteen feet long by three and a
half in breadth at the widest part, painted green below, with a
border of blue, with reference to the two elements in which it
was to spend its existence. It had been loaded the evening before
at our door, half a mile from the river, with potatoes and melons
from a patch which we had cultivated, and a few utensils, and was
provided with wheels in order to be rolled around falls, as well
as with two sets of oars, and several slender poles for shoving
in shallow places, and also two masts, one of which served for a
tent-pole at night; for a buffalo-skin was to be our bed, and a
tent of cotton cloth our roof. It was strongly built, but heavy,
and hardly of better model than usual. If rightly made, a boat
would be a sort of amphibious animal, a creature of two elements,
related by one half its structure to some swift and shapely fish,
and by the other to some strong-winged and graceful bird. The
fish shows where there should be the greatest breadth of beam and
depth in the hold; its fins direct where to set the oars, and the
tail gives some hint for the form and position of the rudder. The
bird shows how to rig and trim the sails, and what form to give
to the prow that it may balance the boat, and divide the air and
water best. These hints we had but partially obeyed. But the
eyes, though they are no sailors, will never be satisfied with
any model, however fashionable, which does not answer all the
requisitions of art. However, as art is all of a ship but the
wood, and yet the wood alone will rudely serve the purpose of a
ship, so our boat, being of wood, gladly availed itself of the
old law that the heavier shall float the lighter, and though a
dull water-fowl, proved a sufficient buoy for our purpose.

"Were it the will of Heaven, an osier bough
Were vessel safe enough the seas to plough."

Some village friends stood upon a promontory lower down the
stream to wave us a last farewell; but we, having already
performed these shore rites, with excusable reserve, as befits
those who are embarked on unusual enterprises, who behold but
speak not, silently glided past the firm lands of Concord, both
peopled cape and lonely summer meadow, with steady sweeps. And
yet we did unbend so far as to let our guns speak for us, when at
length we had swept out of sight, and thus left the woods to ring
again with their echoes; and it may be many russet-clad children,
lurking in those broad meadows, with the bittern and the woodcock
and the rail, though wholly concealed by brakes and hardhack and
meadow-sweet, heard our salute that afternoon.

We were soon floating past the first regular battle ground of the
Revolution, resting on our oars between the still visible
abutments of that "North Bridge," over which in April, 1775,
rolled the first faint tide of that war, which ceased not, till,
as we read on the stone on our right, it "gave peace to these
United States." As a Concord poet has sung:--

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

"The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps."

Our reflections had already acquired a historical remoteness from
the scenes we had left, and we ourselves essayed to sing.

Ah, 't is in vain the peaceful din
That wakes the ignoble town,
Not thus did braver spirits win
A patriot's renown.

There is one field beside this stream,
Wherein no foot does fall,
But yet it beareth in my dream
A richer crop than all.

Let me believe a dream so dear,
Some heart beat high that day,
Above the petty Province here,
And Britain far away;

Some hero of the ancient mould,
Some arm of knightly worth,
Of strength unbought, and faith unsold,
Honored this spot of earth;

Who sought the prize his heart described,
And did not ask release,
Whose free-born valor was not bribed
By prospect of a peace.

The men who stood on yonder height
That day are long since gone;
Not the same hand directs the fight
And monumental stone.

Ye were the Grecian cities then,
The Romes of modern birth,
Where the New England husbandmen
Have shown a Roman worth.

In vain I search a foreign land
To find our Bunker Hill,
And Lexington and Concord stand
By no Laconian rill.

With such thoughts we swept gently by this now peaceful
pasture-ground, on waves of Concord, in which was long since
drowned the din of war.

But since we sailed
Some things have failed,
And many a dream
Gone down the stream.

Here then an aged shepherd dwelt,
Who to his flock his substance dealt,
And ruled them with a vigorous crook,
By precept of the sacred Book;
But he the pierless bridge passed o'er,
And solitary left the shore.

Anon a youthful pastor came,
Whose crook was not unknown to fame,
His lambs he viewed with gentle glance,
Spread o'er the country's wide expanse,
And fed with "Mosses from the Manse."
Here was our Hawthorne in the dale,
And here the shepherd told his tale.

That slight shaft had now sunk behind the hills, and we had
floated round the neighboring bend, and under the new North
Bridge between Ponkawtasset and the Poplar Hill, into the Great
Meadows, which, like a broad moccason print, have levelled a
fertile and juicy place in nature.

On Ponkawtasset, since, we took our way,
Down this still stream to far Billericay,
A poet wise has settled, whose fine ray
Doth often shine on Concord's twilight day.

Like those first stars, whose silver beams on high,
Shining more brightly as the day goes by,
Most travellers cannot at first descry,
But eyes that wont to range the evening sky,

And know celestial lights, do plainly see,
And gladly hail them, numbering two or three;
For lore that's deep must deeply studied be,
As from deep wells men read star-poetry.

These stars are never paled, though out of sight,
But like the sun they shine forever bright;
Ay, _they_ are suns, though earth must in its flight
Put out its eyes that it may see their light.

Who would neglect the least celestial sound,
Or faintest light that falls on earthly ground,
If he could know it one day would be found
That star in Cygnus whither we are bound,
And pale our sun with heavenly radiance round?

Gradually the village murmur subsided, and we seemed to be
embarked on the placid current of our dreams, floating from past
to future as silently as one awakes to fresh morning or evening
thoughts. We glided noiselessly down the stream, occasionally
driving a pickerel or a bream from the covert of the pads, and
the smaller bittern now and then sailed away on sluggish wings
from some recess in the shore, or the larger lifted itself out of
the long grass at our approach, and carried its precious legs
away to deposit them in a place of safety. The tortoises also
rapidly dropped into the water, as our boat ruffled the surface
amid the willows, breaking the reflections of the trees. The
banks had passed the height of their beauty, and some of the
brighter flowers showed by their faded tints that the season was
verging towards the afternoon of the year; but this sombre tinge
enhanced their sincerity, and in the still unabated heats they
seemed like the mossy brink of some cool well. The narrow-leaved
willow (_Salix Purshiana_) lay along the surface of the water in
masses of light green foliage, interspersed with the large balls
of the button-bush. The small rose-colored polygonum raised its
head proudly above the water on either hand, and flowering at
this season and in these localities, in front of dense fields of
the white species which skirted the sides of the stream, its
little streak of red looked very rare and precious. The pure
white blossoms of the arrow-head stood in the shallower parts,
and a few cardinals on the margin still proudly surveyed
themselves reflected in the water, though the latter, as well
as the pickerel-weed, was now nearly out of blossom. The
snake-head, _Chelone glabra_, grew close to the shore, while a
kind of coreopsis, turning its brazen face to the sun, full and
rank, and a tall dull red flower, _Eupatorium purpureum_, or
trumpet-weed, formed the rear rank of the fluvial array. The
bright blue flowers of the soap-wort gentian were sprinkled here
and there in the adjacent meadows, like flowers which Proserpine
had dropped, and still farther in the fields or higher on the
bank were seen the purple Gerardia, the Virginian rhexia, and
drooping neottia or ladies'-tresses; while from the more distant
waysides which we occasionally passed, and banks where the sun
had lodged, was reflected still a dull yellow beam from the ranks
of tansy, now past its prime. In short, Nature seemed to have
adorned herself for our departure with a profusion of fringes and
curls, mingled with the bright tints of flowers, reflected in the
water. But we missed the white water-lily, which is the queen of
river flowers, its reign being over for this season. He makes
his voyage too late, perhaps, by a true water clock who delays so
long. Many of this species inhabit our Concord water. I have
passed down the river before sunrise on a summer morning between
fields of lilies still shut in sleep; and when, at length, the
flakes of sunlight from over the bank fell on the surface of the
water, whole fields of white blossoms seemed to flash open before
me, as I floated along, like the unfolding of a banner, so
sensible is this flower to the influence of the sun's rays.

As we were floating through the last of these familiar meadows,
we observed the large and conspicuous flowers of the hibiscus,
covering the dwarf willows, and mingled with the leaves of the
grape, and wished that we could inform one of our friends behind
of the locality of this somewhat rare and inaccessible flower
before it was too late to pluck it; but we were just gliding out
of sight of the village spire before it occurred to us that the
farmer in the adjacent meadow would go to church on the morrow,
and would carry this news for us; and so by the Monday, while we
should be floating on the Merrimack, our friend would be reaching
to pluck this blossom on the bank of the Concord.

After a pause at Ball's Hill, the St. Ann's of Concord voyageurs,
not to say any prayer for the success of our voyage, but to
gather the few berries which were still left on the hills,
hanging by very slender threads, we weighed anchor again, and
were soon out of sight of our native village. The land seemed to
grow fairer as we withdrew from it. Far away to the southwest
lay the quiet village, left alone under its elms and buttonwoods
in mid afternoon; and the hills, notwithstanding their blue,
ethereal faces, seemed to cast a saddened eye on their old
playfellows; but, turning short to the north, we bade adieu to
their familiar outlines, and addressed ourselves to new scenes
and adventures. Naught was familiar but the heavens, from under
whose roof the voyageur never passes; but with their countenance,
and the acquaintance we had with river and wood, we trusted to
fare well under any circumstances.

From this point, the river runs perfectly straight for a mile or
more to Carlisle Bridge, which consists of twenty wooden piers,
and when we looked back over it, its surface was reduced to a
line's breadth, and appeared like a cobweb gleaming in the sun.
Here and there might be seen a pole sticking up, to mark the
place where some fisherman had enjoyed unusual luck, and in
return had consecrated his rod to the deities who preside over
these shallows. It was full twice as broad as before, deep and
tranquil, with a muddy bottom, and bordered with willows, beyond
which spread broad lagoons covered with pads, bulrushes, and

Late in the afternoon we passed a man on the shore fishing with a
long birch pole, its silvery bark left on, and a dog at his side,
rowing so near as to agitate his cork with our oars, and drive
away luck for a season; and when we had rowed a mile as straight
as an arrow, with our faces turned towards him, and the bubbles
in our wake still visible on the tranquil surface, there stood
the fisher still with his dog, like statues under the other side
of the heavens, the only objects to relieve the eye in the
extended meadow; and there would he stand abiding his luck, till
he took his way home through the fields at evening with his
fish. Thus, by one bait or another, Nature allures inhabitants
into all her recesses. This man was the last of our townsmen
whom we saw, and we silently through him bade adieu to our

The characteristics and pursuits of various ages and races of men
are always existing in epitome in every neighborhood. The
pleasures of my earliest youth have become the inheritance of
other men. This man is still a fisher, and belongs to an era in
which I myself have lived. Perchance he is not confounded by many
knowledges, and has not sought out many inventions, but how to
take many fishes before the sun sets, with his slender birchen
pole and flaxen line, that is invention enough for him. It is
good even to be a fisherman in summer and in winter. Some men are
judges these August days, sitting on benches, even till the court
rises; they sit judging there honorably, between the seasons and
between meals, leading a civil politic life, arbitrating in the
case of Spaulding _versus_ Cummings, it may be, from highest noon
till the red vesper sinks into the west. The fisherman,
meanwhile, stands in three feet of water, under the same summer's
sun, arbitrating in other cases between muckworm and shiner, amid
the fragrance of water-lilies, mint, and pontederia, leading his
life many rods from the dry land, within a pole's length of where
the larger fishes swim. Human life is to him very much like a

"renning aie downward to the sea."

This was his observation. His honor made a great discovery in

I can just remember an old brown-coated man who was the Walton of
this stream, who had come over from Newcastle, England, with his
son,--the latter a stout and hearty man who had lifted an anchor
in his day. A straight old man he was who took his way in silence
through the meadows, having passed the period of communication
with his fellows; his old experienced coat, hanging long and
straight and brown as the yellow-pine bark, glittering with so
much smothered sunlight, if you stood near enough, no work of art
but naturalized at length. I often discovered him unexpectedly
amid the pads and the gray willows when he moved, fishing in some
old country method,--for youth and age then went a fishing
together,--full of incommunicable thoughts, perchance about his
own Tyne and Northumberland. He was always to be seen in serene
afternoons haunting the river, and almost rustling with the
sedge; so many sunny hours in an old man's life, entrapping silly
fish; almost grown to be the sun's familiar; what need had he of
hat or raiment any, having served out his time, and seen through
such thin disguises? I have seen how his coeval fates rewarded
him with the yellow perch, and yet I thought his luck was not in
proportion to his years; and I have seen when, with slow steps
and weighed down with aged thoughts, he disappeared with his fish
under his low-roofed house on the skirts of the village. I think
nobody else saw him; nobody else remembers him now, for he soon
after died, and migrated to new Tyne streams. His fishing was
not a sport, nor solely a means of subsistence, but a sort of
solemn sacrament and withdrawal from the world, just as the aged
read their Bibles.

Whether we live by the seaside, or by the lakes and rivers, or on
the prairie, it concerns us to attend to the nature of fishes,
since they are not phenomena confined to certain localities only,
but forms and phases of the life in nature universally dispersed.
The countless shoals which annually coast the shores of Europe
and America are not so interesting to the student of nature, as
the more fertile law itself, which deposits their spawn on the
tops of mountains, and on the interior plains; the fish principle
in nature, from which it results that they may be found in water
in so many places, in greater or less numbers. The natural
historian is not a fisherman, who prays for cloudy days and good
luck merely, but as fishing has been styled "a contemplative
man's recreation," introducing him profitably to woods and water,
so the fruit of the naturalist's observations is not in new
genera or species, but in new contemplations still, and science
is only a more contemplative man's recreation. The seeds of the
life of fishes are everywhere disseminated, whether the winds
waft them, or the waters float them, or the deep earth holds
them; wherever a pond is dug, straightway it is stocked with this
vivacious race. They have a lease of nature, and it is not yet
out. The Chinese are bribed to carry their ova from province to
province in jars or in hollow reeds, or the water-birds to
transport them to the mountain tarns and interior lakes. There
are fishes wherever there is a fluid medium, and even in clouds
and in melted metals we detect their semblance. Think how in
winter you can sink a line down straight in a pasture through
snow and through ice, and pull up a bright, slippery, dumb,
subterranean silver or golden fish! It is curious, also, to
reflect how they make one family, from the largest to the
smallest. The least minnow that lies on the ice as bait for
pickerel, looks like a huge sea-fish cast up on the shore. In
the waters of this town there are about a dozen distinct species,
though the inexperienced would expect many more.

It enhances our sense of the grand security and serenity of
nature, to observe the still undisturbed economy and content of
the fishes of this century, their happiness a regular fruit of
the summer. The Fresh-Water Sun-Fish, Bream, or Ruff, _Pomotis
vulgaris_, as it were, without ancestry, without posterity, still
represents the Fresh-Water Sun-Fish in nature. It is the most
common of all, and seen on every urchin's string; a simple and
inoffensive fish, whose nests are visible all along the shore,
hollowed in the sand, over which it is steadily poised through
the summer hours on waving fin. Sometimes there are twenty or
thirty nests in the space of a few rods, two feet wide by half a
foot in depth, and made with no little labor, the weeds being
removed, and the sand shoved up on the sides, like a bowl. Here
it may be seen early in summer assiduously brooding, and driving
away minnows and larger fishes, even its own species, which would
disturb its ova, pursuing them a few feet, and circling round
swiftly to its nest again: the minnows, like young sharks,
instantly entering the empty nests, meanwhile, and swallowing the
spawn, which is attached to the weeds and to the bottom, on the
sunny side. The spawn is exposed to so many dangers, that a very
small proportion can ever become fishes, for beside being the
constant prey of birds and fishes, a great many nests are made so
near the shore, in shallow water, that they are left dry in a few
days, as the river goes down. These and the lamprey's are the
only fishes' nests that I have observed, though the ova of some
species may be seen floating on the surface. The breams are so
careful of their charge that you may stand close by in the water
and examine them at your leisure. I have thus stood over them
half an hour at a time, and stroked them familiarly without
frightening them, suffering them to nibble my fingers harmlessly,
and seen them erect their dorsal fins in anger when my hand
approached their ova, and have even taken them gently out of the
water with my hand; though this cannot be accomplished by a
sudden movement, however dexterous, for instant warning is
conveyed to them through their denser element, but only by
letting the fingers gradually close about them as they are poised
over the palm, and with the utmost gentleness raising them slowly
to the surface. Though stationary, they keep up a constant
sculling or waving motion with their fins, which is exceedingly
graceful, and expressive of their humble happiness; for unlike
ours, the element in which they live is a stream which must be
constantly resisted. From time to time they nibble the weeds at
the bottom or overhanging their nests, or dart after a fly or a
worm. The dorsal fin, besides answering the purpose of a keel,
with the anal, serves to keep the fish upright, for in shallow
water, where this is not covered, they fall on their sides. As
you stand thus stooping over the bream in its nest, the edges of
the dorsal and caudal fins have a singular dusty golden
reflection, and its eyes, which stand out from the head, are
transparent and colorless. Seen in its native element, it is a
very beautiful and compact fish, perfect in all its parts, and
looks like a brilliant coin fresh from the mint. It is a perfect
jewel of the river, the green, red, coppery, and golden
reflections of its mottled sides being the concentration of such
rays as struggle through the floating pads and flowers to the
sandy bottom, and in harmony with the sunlit brown and yellow
pebbles. Behind its watery shield it dwells far from many
accidents inevitable to human life.

There is also another species of bream found in our river,
without the red spot on the operculum, which, according to
M. Agassiz, is undescribed.

The Common Perch, _Perca flavescens_, which name describes well the
gleaming, golden reflections of its scales as it is drawn out of
the water, its red gills standing out in vain in the thin
element, is one of the handsomest and most regularly formed of
our fishes, and at such a moment as this reminds us of the fish
in the picture which wished to be restored to its native element
until it had grown larger; and indeed most of this species that
are caught are not half grown. In the ponds there is a
light-colored and slender kind, which swim in shoals of many
hundreds in the sunny water, in company with the shiner,
averaging not more than six or seven inches in length, while only
a few larger specimens are found in the deepest water, which prey
upon their weaker brethren. I have often attracted these small
perch to the shore at evening, by rippling the water with my
fingers, and they may sometimes be caught while attempting to
pass inside your hands. It is a tough and heedless fish, biting
from impulse, without nibbling, and from impulse refraining to
bite, and sculling indifferently past. It rather prefers the
clear water and sandy bottoms, though here it has not much
choice. It is a true fish, such as the angler loves to put into
his basket or hang at the top of his willow twig, in shady
afternoons along the banks of the stream. So many unquestionable
fishes he counts, and so many shiners, which he counts and then
throws away. Old Josselyn in his "New England's Rarities,"
published in 1672, mentions the Perch or River Partridge.

The Chivin, Dace, Roach, Cousin Trout, or whatever else it is
called, _Leuciscus pulchellus_, white and red, always an unexpected
prize, which, however, any angler is glad to hook for its
rarity. A name that reminds us of many an unsuccessful ramble by
swift streams, when the wind rose to disappoint the fisher. It is
commonly a silvery soft-scaled fish, of graceful, scholarlike,
and classical look, like many a picture in an English book. It
loves a swift current and a sandy bottom, and bites
inadvertently, yet not without appetite for the bait. The
minnows are used as bait for pickerel in the winter. The red
chivin, according to some, is still the same fish, only older, or
with its tints deepened as they think by the darker water it
inhabits, as the red clouds swim in the twilight atmosphere. He
who has not hooked the red chivin is not yet a complete angler.
Other fishes, methinks, are slightly amphibious, but this is a
denizen of the water wholly. The cork goes dancing down the
swift-rushing stream, amid the weeds and sands, when suddenly, by
a coincidence never to be remembered, emerges this fabulous
inhabitant of another element, a thing heard of but not seen, as
if it were the instant creation of an eddy, a true product of the
running stream. And this bright cupreous dolphin was spawned and
has passed its life beneath the level of your feet in your native
fields. Fishes too, as well as birds and clouds, derive their
armor from the mine. I have heard of mackerel visiting the copper
banks at a particular season; this fish, perchance, has its
habitat in the Coppermine River. I have caught white chivin of
great size in the Aboljacknagesic, where it empties into the
Penobscot, at the base of Mount Ktaadn, but no red ones
there. The latter variety seems not to have been sufficiently

The Dace, _Leuciscus argenteus_, is a slight silvery minnow, found
generally in the middle of the stream, where the current is most
rapid, and frequently confounded with the last named.

The Shiner, _Leuciscus crysoleucas_, is a soft-scaled and tender
fish, the victim of its stronger neighbors, found in all places,
deep and shallow, clear and turbid; generally the first nibbler
at the bait, but, with its small mouth and nibbling propensities,
not easily caught. It is a gold or silver bit that passes current
in the river, its limber tail dimpling the surface in sport or
flight. I have seen the fry, when frightened by something thrown
into the water, leap out by dozens, together with the dace, and
wreck themselves upon a floating plank. It is the little
light-infant of the river, with body armor of gold or silver
spangles, slipping, gliding its life through with a quirk of the
tail, half in the water, half in the air, upward and ever upward
with flitting fin to more crystalline tides, yet still abreast of
us dwellers on the bank. It is almost dissolved by the summer
heats. A slighter and lighter colored shiner is found in one of
our ponds.

The Pickerel, _Esox reticulatus_, the swiftest, wariest, and most
ravenous of fishes, which Josselyn calls the Fresh-Water or River
Wolf, is very common in the shallow and weedy lagoons along the
sides of the stream. It is a solemn, stately, ruminant fish,
lurking under the shadow of a pad at noon, with still,
circumspect, voracious eye, motionless as a jewel set in water,
or moving slowly along to take up its position, darting from time
to time at such unlucky fish or frog or insect as comes within
its range, and swallowing it at a gulp. I have caught one which
had swallowed a brother pickerel half as large as itself, with
the tail still visible in its mouth, while the head was already
digested in its stomach. Sometimes a striped snake, bound to
greener meadows across the stream, ends its undulatory progress
in the same receptacle. They are so greedy and impetuous that
they are frequently caught by being entangled in the line the
moment it is cast. Fishermen also distinguish the brook pickerel,
a shorter and thicker fish than the former.

The Horned Pout, _Pimelodus nebulosus_, sometimes called Minister,
from the peculiar squeaking noise it makes when drawn out of the
water, is a dull and blundering fellow, and like the eel
vespertinal in his habits, and fond of the mud. It bites
deliberately as if about its business. They are taken at night
with a mass of worms strung on a thread, which catches in their
teeth, sometimes three or four, with an eel, at one pull. They
are extremely tenacious of life, opening and shutting their
mouths for half an hour after their heads have been cut off. A
bloodthirsty and bullying race of rangers, inhabiting the fertile
river bottoms, with ever a lance in rest, and ready to do battle
with their nearest neighbor. I have observed them in summer, when
every other one had a long and bloody scar upon his back, where
the skin was gone, the mark, perhaps, of some fierce
encounter. Sometimes the fry, not an inch long, are seen
darkening the shore with their myriads.

The Suckers, _Catostomi Bostonienses_ and _tuberculati_, Common and
Horned, perhaps on an average the largest of our fishes, may be
seen in shoals of a hundred or more, stemming the current in the
sun, on their mysterious migrations, and sometimes sucking in the
bait which the fisherman suffers to float toward them. The
former, which sometimes grow to a large size, are frequently
caught by the hand in the brooks, or like the red chivin, are
jerked out by a hook fastened firmly to the end of a stick, and
placed under their jaws. They are hardly known to the mere
angler, however, not often biting at his baits, though the
spearer carries home many a mess in the spring. To our village
eyes, these shoals have a foreign and imposing aspect, realizing
the fertility of the seas.

The Common Eel, too, _Muraena Bostoniensis_, the only species of
eel known in the State, a slimy, squirming creature, informed of
mud, still squirming in the pan, is speared and hooked up with
various success. Methinks it too occurs in picture, left after
the deluge, in many a meadow high and dry.

In the shallow parts of the river, where the current is rapid,
and the bottom pebbly, you may sometimes see the curious circular
nests of the Lamprey Eel, _Petromyzon Americanus_, the American
Stone-Sucker, as large as a cart-wheel, a foot or two in height,
and sometimes rising half a foot above the surface of the
water. They collect these stones, of the size of a hen's egg,
with their mouths, as their name implies, and are said to fashion
them into circles with their tails. They ascend falls by clinging
to the stones, which may sometimes be raised, by lifting the fish
by the tail. As they are not seen on their way down the streams,
it is thought by fishermen that they never return, but waste away
and die, clinging to rocks and stumps of trees for an indefinite
period; a tragic feature in the scenery of the river bottoms
worthy to be remembered with Shakespeare's description of the
sea-floor. They are rarely seen in our waters at present, on
account of the dams, though they are taken in great quantities at
the mouth of the river in Lowell. Their nests, which are very
conspicuous, look more like art than anything in the river.

If we had leisure this afternoon, we might turn our prow up the
brooks in quest of the classical trout and the minnows. Of the
last alone, according to M. Agassiz, several of the species found
in this town are yet undescribed. These would, perhaps, complete
the list of our finny contemporaries in the Concord waters.

Salmon, Shad, and Alewives were formerly abundant here, and taken
in weirs by the Indians, who taught this method to the whites, by
whom they were used as food and as manure, until the dam, and
afterward the canal at Billerica, and the factories at Lowell,
put an end to their migrations hitherward; though it is thought
that a few more enterprising shad may still occasionally be seen
in this part of the river. It is said, to account for the
destruction of the fishery, that those who at that time
represented the interests of the fishermen and the fishes,
remembering between what dates they were accustomed to take the
grown shad, stipulated, that the dams should be left open for
that season only, and the fry, which go down a month later, were
consequently stopped and destroyed by myriads. Others say that
the fish-ways were not properly constructed. Perchance, after a
few thousands of years, if the fishes will be patient, and pass
their summers elsewhere, meanwhile, nature will have levelled the
Billerica dam, and the Lowell factories, and the Grass-ground
River run clear again, to be explored by new migratory shoals,
even as far as the Hopkinton pond and Westborough swamp.

One would like to know more of that race, now extinct, whose
seines lie rotting in the garrets of their children, who openly
professed the trade of fishermen, and even fed their townsmen
creditably, not skulking through the meadows to a rainy afternoon
sport. Dim visions we still get of miraculous draughts of fishes,
and heaps uncountable by the river-side, from the tales of our
seniors sent on horseback in their childhood from the neighboring
towns, perched on saddle-bags, with instructions to get the one
bag filled with shad, the other with alewives. At least one
memento of those days may still exist in the memory of this
generation, in the familiar appellation of a celebrated
train-band of this town, whose untrained ancestors stood
creditably at Concord North Bridge. Their captain, a man of
piscatory tastes, having duly warned his company to turn out on a
certain day, they, like obedient soldiers, appeared promptly on
parade at the appointed time, but, unfortunately, they went
undrilled, except in the manuoevres of a soldier's wit and
unlicensed jesting, that May day; for their captain, forgetting
his own appointment, and warned only by the favorable aspect of
the heavens, as he had often done before, went a-fishing that
afternoon, and his company thenceforth was known to old and
young, grave and gay, as "The Shad," and by the youths of this
vicinity this was long regarded as the proper name of all the
irregular militia in Christendom. But, alas! no record of these
fishers' lives remains that we know, unless it be one brief page
of hard but unquestionable history, which occurs in Day Book
No. 4, of an old trader of this town, long since dead, which
shows pretty plainly what constituted a fisherman's stock in
trade in those days. It purports to be a Fisherman's Account
Current, probably for the fishing season of the year 1805, during
which months he purchased daily rum and sugar, sugar and rum,
N. E. and W. I., "one cod line," "one brown mug," and "a line for
the seine"; rum and sugar, sugar and rum, "good loaf sugar," and
"good brown," W. I. and N. E., in short and uniform entries to
the bottom of the page, all carried out in pounds, shillings, and
pence, from March 25th to June 5th, and promptly settled by
receiving "cash in full" at the last date. But perhaps not so
settled altogether. These were the necessaries of life in those
days; with salmon, shad, and alewives, fresh and pickled, he was
thereafter independent on the groceries. Rather a preponderance
of the fluid elements; but such is the fisherman's nature. I can
faintly remember to have seen this same fisher in my earliest
youth, still as near the river as he could get, with uncertain
undulatory step, after so many things had gone down stream,
swinging a scythe in the meadow, his bottle like a serpent hid in
the grass; himself as yet not cut down by the Great Mower.

Surely the fates are forever kind, though Nature's laws are more
immutable than any despot's, yet to man's daily life they rarely
seem rigid, but permit him to relax with license in summer
weather. He is not harshly reminded of the things he may not
do. She is very kind and liberal to all men of vicious habits,
and certainly does not deny them quarter; they do not die without
priest. Still they maintain life along the way, keeping this side
the Styx, still hearty, still resolute, "never better in their
lives"; and again, after a dozen years have elapsed, they start
up from behind a hedge, asking for work and wages for able-bodied
men. Who has not met such

"a beggar on the way,
Who sturdily could gang? ....
Who cared neither for wind nor wet,
In lands where'er he past?"

"That bold adopts each house he views, his own;
Makes every pulse his checquer, and, at pleasure,
Walks forth, and taxes all the world, like Caesar";--

as if consistency were the secret of health, while the poor
inconsistent aspirant man, seeking to live a pure life, feeding
on air, divided against himself, cannot stand, but pines and dies
after a life of sickness, on beds of down.

The unwise are accustomed to speak as if some were not sick; but
methinks the difference between men in respect to health is not
great enough to lay much stress upon. Some are reputed sick and
some are not. It often happens that the sicker man is the nurse
to the sounder.

Shad are still taken in the basin of Concord River at Lowell,
where they are said to be a month earlier than the Merrimack
shad, on account of the warmth of the water. Still patiently,
almost pathetically, with instinct not to be discouraged, not to
be _reasoned_ with, revisiting their old haunts, as if their
stern fates would relent, and still met by the Corporation with
its dam. Poor shad! where is thy redress? When Nature gave thee
instinct, gave she thee the heart to bear thy fate? Still
wandering the sea in thy scaly armor to inquire humbly at the
mouths of rivers if man has perchance left them free for thee to
enter. By countless shoals loitering uncertain meanwhile, merely
stemming the tide there, in danger from sea foes in spite of thy
bright armor, awaiting new instructions, until the sands, until
the water itself, tell thee if it be so or not. Thus by whole
migrating nations, full of instinct, which is thy faith, in this
backward spring, turned adrift, and perchance knowest not where
men do _not_ dwell, where there are _not_ factories, in these
days. Armed with no sword, no electric shock, but mere Shad,
armed only with innocence and a just cause, with tender dumb
mouth only forward, and scales easy to be detached. I for one am
with thee, and who knows what may avail a crow-bar against that
Billerica dam?--Not despairing when whole myriads have gone to
feed those sea monsters during thy suspense, but still brave,
indifferent, on easy fin there, like shad reserved for higher
destinies. Willing to be decimated for man's behoof after the
spawning season. Away with the superficial and selfish
phil-_anthropy_ of men,--who knows what admirable virtue of
fishes may be below low-water-mark, bearing up against a hard
destiny, not admired by that fellow-creature who alone can
appreciate it! Who hears the fishes when they cry? It will not
be forgotten by some memory that we were contemporaries. Thou
shalt erelong have thy way up the rivers, up all the rivers of
the globe, if I am not mistaken. Yea, even thy dull watery dream
shall be more than realized. If it were not so, but thou wert to
be overlooked at first and at last, then would not I take their
heaven. Yes, I say so, who think I know better than thou canst.
Keep a stiff fin then, and stem all the tides thou mayst meet.

At length it would seem that the interests, not of the fishes
only, but of the men of Wayland, of Sudbury, of Concord, demand
the levelling of that dam. Innumerable acres of meadow are
waiting to be made dry land, wild native grass to give place to
English. The farmers stand with scythes whet, waiting the
subsiding of the waters, by gravitation, by evaporation or
otherwise, but sometimes their eyes do not rest, their wheels do
not roll, on the quaking meadow ground during the haying season
at all. So many sources of wealth inaccessible. They rate the
loss hereby incurred in the single town of Wayland alone as equal
to the expense of keeping a hundred yoke of oxen the year
round. One year, as I learn, not long ago, the farmers standing
ready to drive their teams afield as usual, the water gave no
signs of falling; without new attraction in the heavens, without
freshet or visible cause, still standing stagnant at an
unprecedented height. All hydrometers were at fault; some
trembled for their English even. But speedy emissaries revealed
the unnatural secret, in the new float-board, wholly a foot in
width, added to their already too high privileges by the dam
proprietors. The hundred yoke of oxen, meanwhile, standing
patient, gazing wishfully meadowward, at that inaccessible waving
native grass, uncut but by the great mower Time, who cuts so
broad a swathe, without so much as a wisp to wind about their

That was a long pull from Ball's Hill to Carlisle Bridge, sitting
with our faces to the south, a slight breeze rising from the
north, but nevertheless water still runs and grass grows, for
now, having passed the bridge between Carlisle and Bedford, we
see men haying far off in the meadow, their heads waving like the
grass which they cut. In the distance the wind seemed to bend all
alike. As the night stole over, such a freshness was wafted
across the meadow that every blade of cut grass seemed to teem
with life. Faint purple clouds began to be reflected in the
water, and the cow-bells tinkled louder along the banks, while,
like sly water-rats, we stole along nearer the shore, looking for
a place to pitch our camp.

At length, when we had made about seven miles, as far as
Billerica, we moored our boat on the west side of a little rising
ground which in the spring forms an island in the river. Here we
found huckleberries still hanging upon the bushes, where they
seemed to have slowly ripened for our especial use. Bread and
sugar, and cocoa boiled in river water, made our repast, and as
we had drank in the fluvial prospect all day, so now we took a
draft of the water with our evening meal to propitiate the river
gods, and whet our vision for the sights it was to behold. The
sun was setting on the one hand, while our eminence was
contributing its shadow to the night, on the other. It seemed
insensibly to grow lighter as the night shut in, and a distant
and solitary farm-house was revealed, which before lurked in the
shadows of the noon. There was no other house in sight, nor any
cultivated field. To the right and left, as far as the horizon,
were straggling pine woods with their plumes against the sky, and
across the river were rugged hills, covered with shrub oaks,
tangled with grape-vines and ivy, with here and there a gray rock
jutting out from the maze. The sides of these cliffs, though a
quarter of a mile distant, were almost heard to rustle while we
looked at them, it was such a leafy wilderness; a place for fauns
and satyrs, and where bats hung all day to the rocks, and at
evening flitted over the water, and fire-flies husbanded their
light under the grass and leaves against the night. When we had
pitched our tent on the hillside, a few rods from the shore, we
sat looking through its triangular door in the twilight at our
lonely mast on the shore, just seen above the alders, and hardly
yet come to a stand-still from the swaying of the stream; the
first encroachment of commerce on this land. There was our port,
our Ostia. That straight geometrical line against the water and
the sky stood for the last refinements of civilized life, and
what of sublimity there is in history was there symbolized.

For the most part, there was no recognition of human life in the
night, no human breathing was heard, only the breathing of the
wind. As we sat up, kept awake by the novelty of our situation,
we heard at intervals foxes stepping about over the dead leaves,
and brushing the dewy grass close to our tent, and once a
musquash fumbling among the potatoes and melons in our boat, but
when we hastened to the shore we could detect only a ripple in
the water ruffling the disk of a star. At intervals we were
serenaded by the song of a dreaming sparrow or the throttled cry
of an owl, but after each sound which near at hand broke the
stillness of the night, each crackling of the twigs, or rustling
among the leaves, there was a sudden pause, and deeper and more
conscious silence, as if the intruder were aware that no life was
rightfully abroad at that hour. There was a fire in Lowell, as
we judged, this night, and we saw the horizon blazing, and heard
the distant alarm-bells, as it were a faint tinkling music borne
to these woods. But the most constant and memorable sound of a
summer's night, which we did not fail to hear every night
afterward, though at no time so incessantly and so favorably as
now, was the barking of the house-dogs, from the loudest and
hoarsest bark to the faintest aerial palpitation under the eaves
of heaven, from the patient but anxious mastiff to the timid and
wakeful terrier, at first loud and rapid, then faint and slow, to
be imitated only in a whisper; wow-wow-wow-wow--wo--wo--w--w.
Even in a retired and uninhabited district like this, it was a
sufficiency of sound for the ear of night, and more impressive
than any music. I have heard the voice of a hound, just before
daylight, while the stars were shining, from over the woods and
river, far in the horizon, when it sounded as sweet and melodious
as an instrument. The hounding of a dog pursuing a fox or other
animal in the horizon, may have first suggested the notes of the
hunting-horn to alternate with and relieve the lungs of the dog.
This natural bugle long resounded in the woods of the ancient
world before the horn was invented. The very dogs that sullenly
bay the moon from farm-yards in these nights excite more heroism
in our breasts than all the civil exhortations or war sermons of
the age. "I would rather be a dog, and bay the moon," than many
a Roman that I know. The night is equally indebted to the
clarion of the cock, with wakeful hope, from the very setting of
the sun, prematurely ushering in the dawn. All these sounds, the
crowing of cocks, the baying of dogs, and the hum of insects at
noon, are the evidence of nature's health or _sound_ state. Such
is the never-failing beauty and accuracy of language, the most
perfect art in the world; the chisel of a thousand years
retouches it.

At length the antepenultimate and drowsy hours drew on, and all
sounds were denied entrance to our ears.

Who sleeps by day and walks by night,
Will meet no spirit but some sprite.



"The river calmly flows,
Through shining banks, through lonely glen,
Where the owl shrieks, though ne'er the cheer of men
Has stirred its mute repose,
Still if you should walk there, you would go there again."


"The Indians tell us of a beautiful River lying far to the south,
which they call Merrimack."

^Sieur de Monts^, _Relations of the jesuits_, 1604.




In the morning the river and adjacent country were covered with a
dense fog, through which the smoke of our fire curled up like a
still subtiler mist; but before we had rowed many rods, the sun
arose and the fog rapidly dispersed, leaving a slight steam only
to curl along the surface of the water. It was a quiet Sunday
morning, with more of the auroral rosy and white than of the
yellow light in it, as if it dated from earlier than the fall of
man, and still preserved a heathenish integrity:--

An early unconverted Saint,
Free from noontide or evening taint,
Heathen without reproach,
That did upon the civil day encroach,
And ever since its birth
Had trod the outskirts of the earth.

But the impressions which the morning makes vanish with its dews,
and not even the most "persevering mortal" can preserve the
memory of its freshness to mid-day. As we passed the various
islands, or what were islands in the spring, rowing with our
backs down stream, we gave names to them. The one on which we had
camped we called Fox Island, and one fine densely wooded island
surrounded by deep water and overrun by grape-vines, which looked
like a mass of verdure and of flowers cast upon the waves, we
named Grape Island. From Ball's Hill to Billerica meeting-house,
the river was still twice as broad as in Concord, a deep, dark,
and dead stream, flowing between gentle hills and sometimes
cliffs, and well wooded all the way. It was a long woodland lake
bordered with willows. For long reaches we could see neither
house nor cultivated field, nor any sign of the vicinity of
man. Now we coasted along some shallow shore by the edge of a
dense palisade of bulrushes, which straightly bounded the water
as if clipt by art, reminding us of the reed forts of the
East-Indians, of which we had read; and now the bank slightly
raised was overhung with graceful grasses and various species of
brake, whose downy stems stood closely grouped and naked as in a
vase, while their heads spread several feet on either side. The
dead limbs of the willow were rounded and adorned by the climbing
mikania, _Mikania scandens_, which filled every crevice in the
leafy bank, contrasting agreeably with the gray bark of its
supporter and the balls of the button-bush. The water willow,
_Salix Purshiana_, when it is of large size and entire, is the most
graceful and ethereal of our trees. Its masses of light green
foliage, piled one upon another to the height of twenty or thirty
feet, seemed to float on the surface of the water, while the
slight gray stems and the shore were hardly visible between
them. No tree is so wedded to the water, and harmonizes so well
with still streams. It is even more graceful than the weeping
willow, or any pendulous trees, which dip their branches in the
stream instead of being buoyed up by it. Its limbs curved outward
over the surface as if attracted by it. It had not a New England
but an Oriental character, reminding us of trim Persian gardens,
of Haroun Alraschid, and the artificial lakes of the East.

As we thus dipped our way along between fresh masses of foliage
overrun with the grape and smaller flowering vines, the surface
was so calm, and both air and water so transparent, that the
flight of a kingfisher or robin over the river was as distinctly
seen reflected in the water below as in the air above. The birds
seemed to flit through submerged groves, alighting on the
yielding sprays, and their clear notes to come up from below. We
were uncertain whether the water floated the land, or the land
held the water in its bosom. It was such a season, in short, as
that in which one of our Concord poets sailed on its stream, and
sung its quiet glories.

"There is an inward voice, that in the stream
Sends forth its spirit to the listening ear,
And in a calm content it floweth on,
Like wisdom, welcome with its own respect.
Clear in its breast lie all these beauteous thoughts,
It doth receive the green and graceful trees,
And the gray rocks smile in its peaceful arms."

And more he sung, but too serious for our page. For every oak and
birch too growing on the hill-top, as well as for these elms and
willows, we knew that there was a graceful ethereal and ideal
tree making down from the roots, and sometimes Nature in high
tides brings her mirror to its foot and makes it visible. The
stillness was intense and almost conscious, as if it were a
natural Sabbath, and we fancied that the morning was the evening
of a celestial day. The air was so elastic and crystalline that
it had the same effect on the landscape that a glass has on a
picture, to give it an ideal remoteness and perfection. The
landscape was clothed in a mild and quiet light, in which the
woods and fences checkered and partitioned it with new
regularity, and rough and uneven fields stretched away with
lawn-like smoothness to the horizon, and the clouds, finely
distinct and picturesque, seemed a fit drapery to hang over
fairy-land. The world seemed decked for some holiday or prouder
pageantry, with silken streamers flying, and the course of our
lives to wind on before us like a green lane into a country maze,
at the season when fruit-trees are in blossom.

Why should not our whole life and its scenery be actually thus
fair and distinct? All our lives want a suitable background. They
should at least, like the life of the anchorite, be as impressive
to behold as objects in the desert, a broken shaft or crumbling
mound against a limitless horizon. Character always secures for
itself this advantage, and is thus distinct and unrelated to near
or trivial objects, whether things or persons. On this same
stream a maiden once sailed in my boat, thus unattended but by
invisible guardians, and as she sat in the prow there was nothing
but herself between the steersman and the sky. I could then say
with the poet,--

"Sweet falls the summer air
Over her frame who sails with me;
Her way like that is beautifully free,
Her nature far more rare,
And is her constant heart of virgin purity."

At evening still the very stars seem but this maiden's emissaries
and reporters of her progress.

Low in the eastern sky
Is set thy glancing eye;
And though its gracious light
Ne'er riseth to my sight,
Yet every star that climbs
Above the gnarled limbs
Of yonder hill,
Conveys thy gentle will.

Believe I knew thy thought,
And that the zephyrs brought
Thy kindest wishes through,
As mine they bear to you,
That some attentive cloud
Did pause amid the crowd
Over my head,
While gentle things were said.

Believe the thrushes sung,
And that the flower-bells rung,
That herbs exhaled their scent,
And beasts knew what was meant,
The trees a welcome waved,
And lakes their margins laved,
When thy free mind
To my retreat did wind.

It was a summer eve,
The air did gently heave
While yet a low-hung cloud
Thy eastern skies did shroud;
The lightning's silent gleam,
Startling my drowsy dream,
Seemed like the flash
Under thy dark eyelash.

Still will I strive to be
As if thou wert with me;
Whatever path I take,
It shall be for thy sake,
Of gentle slope and wide,
As thou wert by my side,
Without a root
To trip thy gentle foot.

I 'll walk with gentle pace,
And choose the smoothest place
And careful dip the oar,
And shun the winding shore,
And gently steer my boat
Where water-lilies float,
And cardinal flowers
Stand in their sylvan bowers.

It required some rudeness to disturb with our boat the
mirror-like surface of the water, in which every twig and blade
of grass was so faithfully reflected; too faithfully indeed for
art to imitate, for only Nature may exaggerate herself. The
shallowest still water is unfathomable. Wherever the trees and
skies are reflected, there is more than Atlantic depth, and no
danger of fancy running aground. We notice that it required a
separate intention of the eye, a more free and abstracted vision,
to see the reflected trees and the sky, than to see the river
bottom merely; and so are there manifold visions in the direction
of every object, and even the most opaque reflect the heavens
from their surface. Some men have their eyes naturally intended
to the one and some to the other object.

"A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye,
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And the heavens espy."

Two men in a skiff, whom we passed hereabouts, floating buoyantly
amid the reflections of the trees, like a feather in mid-air, or
a leaf which is wafted gently from its twig to the water without
turning over, seemed still in their element, and to have very
delicately availed themselves of the natural laws. Their floating
there was a beautiful and successful experiment in natural
philosophy, and it served to ennoble in our eyes the art of
navigation; for as birds fly and fishes swim, so these men
sailed. It reminded us how much fairer and nobler all the actions
of man might be, and that our life in its whole economy might be
as beautiful as the fairest works of art or nature.

The sun lodged on the old gray cliffs, and glanced from every
pad; the bulrushes and flags seemed to rejoice in the delicious
light and air; the meadows were a-drinking at their leisure; the
frogs sat meditating, all sabbath thoughts, summing up their
week, with one eye out on the golden sun, and one toe upon a
reed, eying the wondrous universe in which they act their part;
the fishes swam more staid and soberly, as maidens go to church;
shoals of golden and silver minnows rose to the surface to behold
the heavens, and then sheered off into more sombre aisles; they
swept by as if moved by one mind, continually gliding past each
other, and yet preserving the form of their battalion unchanged,
as if they were still embraced by the transparent membrane which
held the spawn; a young band of brethren and sisters trying their
new fins; now they wheeled, now shot ahead, and when we drove
them to the shore and cut them off, they dexterously tacked and
passed underneath the boat. Over the old wooden bridges no
traveller crossed, and neither the river nor the fishes avoided
to glide between the abutments.

Here was a village not far off behind the woods, Billerica,
settled not long ago, and the children still bear the names of
the first settlers in this late "howling wilderness"; yet to all
intents and purposes it is as old as Fernay or as Mantua, an old
gray town where men grow old and sleep already under moss-grown
monuments,--outgrow their usefulness. This is ancient Billerica,
(Villarica?) now in its dotage, named from the English
Billericay, and whose Indian name was Shawshine. I never heard
that it was young. See, is not nature here gone to decay, farms
all run out, meeting-house grown gray and racked with age? If
you would know of its early youth, ask those old gray rocks in
the pasture. It has a bell that sounds sometimes as far as
Concord woods; I have heard that,--ay, hear it now. No wonder
that such a sound startled the dreaming Indian, and frightened
his game, when the first bells were swung on trees, and sounded
through the forest beyond the plantations of the white man. But
to-day I like best the echo amid these cliffs and woods. It is
no feeble imitation, but rather its original, or as if some rural
Orpheus played over the strain again to show how it should sound.

Dong, sounds the brass in the east,
As if to a funeral feast,
But I like that sound the best
Out of the fluttering west.

The steeple ringeth a knell,
But the fairies' silvery bell
Is the voice of that gentle folk,
Or else the horizon that spoke.

Its metal is not of brass,
But air, and water, and glass,
And under a cloud it is swung,
And by the wind it is rung.

When the steeple tolleth the noon,
It soundeth not so soon,
Yet it rings a far earlier hour,
And the sun has not reached its tower.

On the other hand, the road runs up to Carlisle, city of the
woods, which, if it is less civil, is the more natural. It does
well hold the earth together. It gets laughed at because it is a
small town, I know, but nevertheless it is a place where great
men may be born any day, for fair winds and foul blow right on
over it without distinction. It has a meeting-house and
horse-sheds, a tavern and a blacksmith's shop, for centre, and a
good deal of wood to cut and cord yet. And

"Bedford, most noble Bedford,
I shall not thee forget."

History has remembered thee; especially that meek and humble
petition of thy old planters, like the wailing of the Lord's own
people, "To the gentlemen, the selectmen" of Concord, praying to
be erected into a separate parish. We can hardly credit that so
plaintive a psalm resounded but little more than a century ago
along these Babylonish waters. "In the extreme difficult seasons
of heat and cold," said they, "we were ready to say of the
Sabbath, Behold what a weariness is it."--"Gentlemen, if our
seeking to draw off proceed from any disaffection to our present
Reverend Pastor, or the Christian Society with whom we have taken
such sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in
company, then hear us not this day, but we greatly desire, if God
please, to be eased of our burden on the Sabbath, the travel and
fatigue thereof, that the word of God may be nigh to us, near to
our houses and in our hearts, that we and our little ones may
serve the Lord. We hope that God, who stirred up the spirit of
Cyrus to set forward temple work, has stirred us up to ask, and
will stir you up to grant, the prayer of our petition; so shall
your humble petitioners ever pray, as in duty bound--" And so the
temple work went forward here to a happy conclusion. Yonder in
Carlisle the building of the temple was many wearisome years
delayed, not that there was wanting of Shittim wood, or the gold
of Ophir, but a site therefor convenient to all the worshippers;
whether on "Buttrick's Plain," or rather on "Poplar Hill."--It
was a tedious question.

In this Billerica solid men must have lived, select from year to
year; a series of town clerks, at least; and there are old
records that you may search. Some spring the white man came,
built him a house, and made a clearing here, letting in the sun,
dried up a farm, piled up the old gray stones in fences, cut down
the pines around his dwelling, planted orchard seeds brought from
the old country, and persuaded the civil apple-tree to blossom
next to the wild pine and the juniper, shedding its perfume in
the wilderness. Their old stocks still remain. He culled the
graceful elm from out the woods and from the river-side, and so
refined and smoothed his village plot. He rudely bridged the
stream, and drove his team afield into the river meadows, cut the
wild grass, and laid bare the homes of beaver, otter, muskrat,
and with the whetting of his scythe scared off the deer and bear.
He set up a mill, and fields of English grain sprang in the
virgin soil. And with his grain he scattered the seeds of the
dandelion and the wild trefoil over the meadows, mingling his
English flowers with the wild native ones. The bristling
burdock, the sweet-scented catnip, and the humble yarrow planted
themselves along his woodland road, they too seeking "freedom to
worship God" in their way. And thus he plants a town. The white
man's mullein soon reigned in Indian cornfields, and
sweet-scented English grasses clothed the new soil. Where, then,
could the Red Man set his foot? The honey-bee hummed through the
Massachusetts woods, and sipped the wild-flowers round the
Indian's wigwam, perchance unnoticed, when, with prophetic
warning, it stung the Red child's hand, forerunner of that
industrious tribe that was to come and pluck the wild-flower of
his race up by the root.

The white man comes, pale as the dawn, with a load of thought,
with a slumbering intelligence as a fire raked up, knowing well
what he knows, not guessing but calculating; strong in community,
yielding obedience to authority; of experienced race; of
wonderful, wonderful common sense; dull but capable, slow but
persevering, severe but just, of little humor but genuine; a
laboring man, despising game and sport; building a house that
endures, a framed house. He buys the Indian's moccasins and
baskets, then buys his hunting-grounds, and at length forgets
where he is buried and ploughs up his bones. And here town
records, old, tattered, time-worn, weather-stained chronicles,
contain the Indian sachem's mark perchance, an arrow or a beaver,
and the few fatal words by which he deeded his hunting-grounds
away. He comes with a list of ancient Saxon, Norman, and Celtic
names, and strews them up and down this river,--Framingham,
Sudbury, Bedford, Carlisle, Billerica, Chelmsford,--and this is
New Angle-land, and these are the New West Saxons whom the Red
Men call, not Angle-ish or English, but Yengeese, and so at last
they are known for Yankees.

When we were opposite to the middle of Billerica, the fields on
either hand had a soft and cultivated English aspect, the village
spire being seen over the copses which skirt the river, and
sometimes an orchard straggled down to the water-side, though,
generally, our course this forenoon was the wildest part of our
voyage. It seemed that men led a quiet and very civil life
there. The inhabitants were plainly cultivators of the earth,
and lived under an organized political government. The
school-house stood with a meek aspect, entreating a long truce to
war and savage life. Every one finds by his own experience, as
well as in history, that the era in which men cultivate the
apple, and the amenities of the garden, is essentially different
from that of the hunter and forest life, and neither can displace
the other without loss. We have all had our day-dreams, as well
as more prophetic nocturnal vision; but as for farming, I am
convinced that my genius dates from an older era than the
agricultural. I would at least strike my spade into the earth
with such careless freedom but accuracy as the woodpecker his
bill into a tree. There is in my nature, methinks, a singular
yearning toward all wildness. I know of no redeeming qualities
in myself but a sincere love for some things, and when I am
reproved I fall back on to this ground. What have I to do with
ploughs? I cut another furrow than you see. Where the off ox
treads, there is it not, it is farther off; where the nigh ox
walks, it will not be, it is nigher still. If corn fails, my
crop fails not, and what are drought and rain to me? The rude
Saxon pioneer will sometimes pine for that refinement and
artificial beauty which are English, and love to hear the sound
of such sweet and classical names as the Pentland and Malvern
Hills, the Cliffs of Dover and the Trosachs, Richmond, Derwent,
and Winandermere, which are to him now instead of the Acropolis
and Parthenon, of Baiae, and Athens with its sea-walls, and
Arcadia and Tempe.

Greece, who am I that should remember thee,
Thy Marathon and thy Thermopylae?
Is my life vulgar, my fate mean,
Which on these golden memories can lean?

We are apt enough to be pleased with such books as Evelyn's
Sylva, Acetarium, and Kalendarium Hortense, but they imply a
relaxed nerve in the reader. Gardening is civil and social, but
it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.
There may be an excess of cultivation as well as of anything
else, until civilization becomes pathetic. A highly cultivated
man,--all whose bones can be bent! whose heaven-born virtues are
but good manners! The young pines springing up in the cornfields
from year to year are to me a refreshing fact. We talk of
civilizing the Indian, but that is not the name for his
improvement. By the wary independence and aloofness of his dim
forest life he preserves his intercourse with his native gods,
and is admitted from time to time to a rare and peculiar society
with Nature. He has glances of starry recognition to which our
saloons are strangers. The steady illumination of his genius,
dim only because distant, is like the faint but satisfying light
of the stars compared with the dazzling but ineffectual and
short-lived blaze of candles. The Society-Islanders had their
day-born gods, but they were not supposed to be "of equal
antiquity with the _atua fauau po_, or night-born gods." It is
true, there are the innocent pleasures of country life, and it is
sometimes pleasant to make the earth yield her increase, and
gather the fruits in their season, but the heroic spirit will not
fail to dream of remoter retirements and more rugged paths. It
will have its garden-plots and its _parterres_ elsewhere than on
the earth, and gather nuts and berries by the way for its
subsistence, or orchard fruits with such heedlessness as berries.
We would not always be soothing and taming nature, breaking the
horse and the ox, but sometimes ride the horse wild and chase the
buffalo. The Indian's intercourse with Nature is at least such
as admits of the greatest independence of each. If he is
somewhat of a stranger in her midst, the gardener is too much of
a familiar. There is something vulgar and foul in the latter's
closeness to his mistress, something noble and cleanly in the
former's distance. In civilization, as in a southern latitude,
man degenerates at length, and yields to the incursion of more
northern tribes,

"Some nation yet shut in
With hills of ice."

There are other, savager, and more primeval aspects of nature
than our poets have sung. It is only white man's poetry. Homer
and Ossian even can never revive in London or Boston. And yet
behold how these cities are refreshed by the mere tradition, or
the imperfectly transmitted fragrance and flavor of these wild
fruits. If we could listen but for an instant to the chant of the
Indian muse, we should understand why he will not exchange his
savageness for civilization. Nations are not whimsical. Steel
and blankets are strong temptations; but the Indian does well to
continue Indian.

After sitting in my chamber many days, reading the poets, I have
been out early on a foggy morning, and heard the cry of an owl in
a neighboring wood as from a nature behind the common, unexplored
by science or by literature. None of the feathered race has yet
realized my youthful conceptions of the woodland depths. I had
seen the red Election-bird brought from their recesses on my
comrades' string, and fancied that their plumage would assume
stranger and more dazzling colors, like the tints of evening, in
proportion as I advanced farther into the darkness and solitude
of the forest. Still less have I seen such strong and wilderness
tints on any poet's string.

These modern ingenious sciences and arts do not affect me as
those more venerable arts of hunting and fishing, and even of
husbandry in its primitive and simple form; as ancient and
honorable trades as the sun and moon and winds pursue, coeval
with the faculties of man, and invented when these were invented.
We do not know their John Gutenberg, or Richard Arkwright, though
the poets would fain make them to have been gradually learned and
taught. According to Gower,--

"And Iadahel, as saith the boke,
Firste made nette, and fishes toke.
Of huntyng eke he fond the chace,
Whiche nowe is knowe in many place;
A tent of clothe, with corde and stake,
He sette up first, and did it make."

Also, Lydgate says:--

"Jason first sayled, in story it is tolde,
Toward Colchos, to wynne the flees of golde,
Ceres the Goddess fond first the tilthe of londe;
* * * * *
Also, Aristeus fonde first the usage
Of mylke, and cruddis, and of honey swote;
Peryodes, for grete avauntage,
From flyntes smote fuyre, daryng in the roote."

We read that Aristeus "obtained of Jupiter and Neptune, that the
pestilential heat of the dog-days, wherein was great mortality,
should be mitigated with wind." This is one of those dateless
benefits conferred on man, which have no record in our vulgar
day, though we still find some similitude to them in our dreams,
in which we have a more liberal and juster apprehension of
things, unconstrained by habit, which is then in some measure put
off, and divested of memory, which we call history.

According to fable, when the island of AEgina was depopulated by
sickness, at the instance of AEacus, Jupiter turned the ants into
men, that is, as some think, he made men of the inhabitants who
lived meanly like ants. This is perhaps the fullest history of
those early days extant.

The fable which is naturally and truly composed, so as to satisfy
the imagination, ere it addresses the understanding, beautiful
though strange as a wild-flower, is to the wise man an apothegm,
and admits of his most generous interpretation. When we read
that Bacchus made the Tyrrhenian mariners mad, so that they leapt
into the sea, mistaking it for a meadow full of flowers, and so
became dolphins, we are not concerned about the historical truth
of this, but rather a higher poetical truth. We seem to hear the
music of a thought, and care not if the understanding be not
gratified. For their beauty, consider the fables of Narcissus,
of Endymion, of Memnon son of Morning, the representative of all
promising youths who have died a premature death, and whose
memory is melodiously prolonged to the latest morning; the
beautiful stories of Phaeton, and of the Sirens whose isle shone
afar off white with the bones of unburied men; and the pregnant
ones of Pan, Prometheus, and the Sphinx; and that long list of
names which have already become part of the universal language of
civilized men, and from proper are becoming common names or
nouns,--the Sibyls, the Eumenides, the Parcae, the Graces, the
Muses, Nemesis, &c.

It is interesting to observe with what singular unanimity the
farthest sundered nations and generations consent to give
completeness and roundness to an ancient fable, of which they
indistinctly appreciate the beauty or the truth. By a faint and
dream-like effort, though it be only by the vote of a scientific
body, the dullest posterity slowly add some trait to the mythus.
As when astronomers call the lately discovered planet Neptune; or
the asteroid Astraea, that the Virgin who was driven from earth
to heaven at the end of the golden age, may have her local
habitation in the heavens more distinctly assigned her,--for the
slightest recognition of poetic worth is significant. By such
slow aggregation has mythology grown from the first. The very
nursery tales of this generation, were the nursery tales of
primeval races. They migrate from east to west, and again from
west to east; now expanded into the "tale divine" of bards, now
shrunk into a popular rhyme. This is an approach to that
universal language which men have sought in vain. This fond
reiteration of the oldest expressions of truth by the latest
posterity, content with slightly and religiously retouching the
old material, is the most impressive proof of a common humanity.

All nations love the same jests and tales, Jews, Christians, and
Mahometans, and the same translated suffice for all. All men are
children, and of one family. The same tale sends them all to
bed, and wakes them in the morning. Joseph Wolff, the
missionary, distributed copies of Robinson Crusoe, translated
into Arabic, among the Arabs, and they made a great sensation.
"Robinson Crusoe's adventures and wisdom," says he, "were read by
Mahometans in the market-places of Sanaa, Hodyeda, and Loheya,
and admired and believed!" On reading the book, the Arabians
exclaimed, "O, that Robinson Crusoe must have been a great

To some extent, mythology is only the most ancient history and
biography. So far from being false or fabulous in the common
sense, it contains only enduring and essential truth, the I and
you, the here and there, the now and then, being omitted. Either
time or rare wisdom writes it. Before printing was discovered, a
century was equal to a thousand years. The poet is he who can
write some pure mythology to-day without the aid of posterity.
In how few words, for instance, the Greeks would have told the
story of Abelard and Heloise, making but a sentence for our
classical dictionary,--and then, perchance, have stuck up their
names to shine in some corner of the firmament. We moderns, on
the other hand, collect only the raw materials of biography and
history, "memoirs to serve for a history," which itself is but
materials to serve for a mythology. How many volumes folio would
the Life and Labors of Prometheus have filled, if perchance it
had fallen, as perchance it did first, in days of cheap printing!
Who knows what shape the fable of Columbus will at length assume,
to be confounded with that of Jason and the expedition of the
Argonauts. And Franklin,--there may be a line for him in the
future classical dictionary, recording what that demigod did, and
referring him to some new genealogy. "Son of----and----. He
aided the Americans to gain their independence, instructed
mankind in economy, and drew down lightning from the clouds."

The hidden significance of these fables which is sometimes
thought to have been detected, the ethics running parallel to the
poetry and history, are not so remarkable as the readiness with
which they may be made to express a variety of truths. As if
they were the skeletons of still older and more universal truths
than any whose flesh and blood they are for the time made to
wear. It is like striving to make the sun, or the wind, or the
sea symbols to signify exclusively the particular thoughts of our
day. But what signifies it? In the mythus a superhuman
intelligence uses the unconscious thoughts and dreams of men as
its hieroglyphics to address men unborn. In the history of the
human mind, these glowing and ruddy fables precede the noonday
thoughts of men, as Aurora the sun's rays. The matutine
intellect of the poet, keeping in advance of the glare of
philosophy, always dwells in this auroral atmosphere.

As we said before, the Concord is a dead stream, but its scenery
is the more suggestive to the contemplative voyager, and this day
its water was fuller of reflections than our pages even. Just
before it reaches the falls in Billerica, it is contracted, and
becomes swifter and shallower, with a yellow pebbly bottom,
hardly passable for a canal-boat, leaving the broader and more
stagnant portion above like a lake among the hills. All through
the Concord, Bedford, and Billerica meadows we had heard no
murmur from its stream, except where some tributary runnel
tumbled in,--

Some tumultuous little rill,
Purling round its storied pebble,
Tinkling to the selfsame tune,
From September until June,
Which no drought doth e'er enfeeble.

Silent flows the parent stream,
And if rocks do lie below,
Smothers with her waves the din,
As it were a youthful sin,
Just as still, and just as slow.

But now at length we heard this staid and primitive river rushing
to her fall, like any rill. We here left its channel, just above
the Billerica Falls, and entered the canal, which runs, or rather
is conducted, six miles through the woods to the Merrimack, at
Middlesex, and as we did not care to loiter in this part of our
voyage, while one ran along the tow-path drawing the boat by a
cord, the other kept it off the shore with a pole, so that we
accomplished the whole distance in little more than an hour.
This canal, which is the oldest in the country, and has even an
antique look beside the more modern railroads, is fed by the
Concord, so that we were still floating on its familiar waters.
It is so much water which the river _lets_ for the advantage of
commerce. There appeared some want of harmony in its scenery,
since it was not of equal date with the woods and meadows through
which it is led, and we missed the conciliatory influence of time
on land and water; but in the lapse of ages, Nature will recover
and indemnify herself, and gradually plant fit shrubs and flowers
along its borders. Already the kingfisher sat upon a pine over
the water, and the bream and pickerel swam below. Thus all works
pass directly out of the hands of the architect into the hands of
Nature, to be perfected.

It was a retired and pleasant route, without houses or
travellers, except some young men who were lounging upon a bridge
in Chelmsford, who leaned impudently over the rails to pry into
our concerns, but we caught the eye of the most forward, and
looked at him till he was visibly discomfited. Not that there
was any peculiar efficacy in our look, but rather a sense of
shame left in him which disarmed him.

It is a very true and expressive phrase, "He looked daggers at
me," for the first pattern and prototype of all daggers must have
been a glance of the eye. First, there was the glance of Jove's
eye, then his fiery bolt, then, the material gradually hardening,
tridents, spears, javelins, and finally, for the convenience of
private men, daggers, krisses, and so forth, were invented. It
is wonderful how we get about the streets without being wounded
by these delicate and glancing weapons, a man can so nimbly whip
out his rapier, or without being noticed carry it unsheathed.
Yet it is rare that one gets seriously looked at.

As we passed under the last bridge over the canal, just before
reaching the Merrimack, the people coming out of church paused to
look at us from above, and apparently, so strong is custom,
indulged in some heathenish comparisons; but we were the truest
observers of this sunny day. According to Hesiod,

"The seventh is a holy day,
For then Latona brought forth golden-rayed Apollo,"

and by our reckoning this was the seventh day of the week, and
not the first. I find among the papers of an old Justice of the
Peace and Deacon of the town of Concord, this singular
memorandum, which is worth preserving as a relic of an ancient
custom. After reforming the spelling and grammar, it runs as
follows: "Men that travelled with teams on the Sabbath,
Dec. 18th, 1803, were Jeremiah Richardson and Jonas Parker, both
of Shirley. They had teams with rigging such as is used to carry
barrels, and they were travelling westward. Richardson was
questioned by the Hon. Ephraim Wood, Esq., and he said that Jonas
Parker was his fellow-traveller, and he further said that a
Mr. Longley was his employer, who promised to bear him out." We
were the men that were gliding northward, this Sept. 1st, 1839,
with still team, and rigging not the most convenient to carry
barrels, unquestioned by any Squire or Church Deacon and ready to
bear ourselves out if need were. In the latter part of the
seventeenth century, according to the historian of Dunstable,
"Towns were directed to erect '_a cage_' near the meeting-house,
and in this all offenders against the sanctity of the Sabbath
were confined." Society has relaxed a little from its
strictness, one would say, but I presume that there is not less
_religion_ than formerly. If the _ligature_ is found to be
loosened in one part, it is only drawn the tighter in another.

You can hardly convince a man of an error in a lifetime, but must
content yourself with the reflection that the progress of science
is slow. If he is not convinced, his grandchildren may be. The
geologists tell us that it took one hundred years to prove that
fossils are organic, and one hundred and fifty more, to prove
that they are not to be referred to the Noachian deluge. I am
not sure but I should betake myself in extremities to the liberal
divinities of Greece, rather than to my country's God. Jehovah,
though with us he has acquired new attributes, is more absolute
and unapproachable, but hardly more divine, than Jove. He is not
so much of a gentleman, not so gracious and catholic, he does not
exert so intimate and genial an influence on nature, as many a
god of the Greeks. I should fear the infinite power and
inflexible justice of the almighty mortal, hardly as yet
apotheosized, so wholly masculine, with no Sister Juno, no
Apollo, no Venus, nor Minerva, to intercede for me, phyle'ousa' te, k_edome'n_e te>. The Grecian are youthful and
erring and fallen gods, with the vices of men, but in many
important respects essentially of the divine race. In my
Pantheon, Pan still reigns in his pristine glory, with his ruddy
face, his flowing beard, and his shaggy body, his pipe and his
crook, his nymph Echo, and his chosen daughter Iambe; for the
great god Pan is not dead, as was rumored. No god ever dies.
Perhaps of all the gods of New England and of ancient Greece, I
am most constant at his shrine.

It seems to me that the god that is commonly worshipped in
civilized countries is not at all divine, though he bears a
divine name, but is the overwhelming authority and respectability
of mankind combined. Men reverence one another, not yet God. If
I thought that I could speak with discrimination and impartiality
of the nations of Christendom, I should praise them, but it tasks
me too much. They seem to be the most civil and humane, but I
may be mistaken. Every people have gods to suit their
circumstances; the Society Islanders had a god called Toahitu,
"in shape like a dog; he saved such as were in danger of falling
from rocks and trees." I think that we can do without him, as we
have not much climbing to do. Among them a man could make
himself a god out of a piece of wood in a few minutes, which
would frighten him out of his wits.

I fancy that some indefatigable spinster of the old school, who
had the supreme felicity to be born in "days that tried men's
souls," hearing this, may say with Nestor, another of the old
school, "But you are younger than I. For time was when I
conversed with greater men than you. For not at any time have I

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