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Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman

Part 3 out of 13

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where I lived during '74 and '75, quite unwell--but after that began
to grow better; commenc'd going for weeks at a time, even for months,
down in the country, to a charmingly recluse and rural spot along
Timber creek, twelve or thirteen miles from where it enters the
Delaware river. Domicil'd at the farm-house of my friends, the
Staffords, near by, I lived half the time along this creek and its
adjacent fields and lanes. And it is to my life here that I, perhaps,
owe partial recovery (a sort of second wind, or semi-renewal of the
lease of life) from the prostration of 1874-'75. If the notes of that
outdoor life could only prove as glowing to you, reader dear, as the
experience itself was to me. Doubtless in the course of the
following, the fact of invalidism will crop out, (I call myself _a
half-Paralytic_ these days, and reverently bless the Lord it is no
worse,) between some of the lines--but I get my share of fun and
healthy hours, and shall try to indicate them. (The trick is, I find,
to tone your wants and tastes low down enough, and make much of
negatives, and of mere daylight and the skies.)


_1876, '77_.--I find the woods in mid-May and early June my best
places for composition.[9] Seated on logs or stumps there, or resting
on rails, nearly all the following memoranda have been jotted down.
Wherever I go, indeed, winter or summer, city or country, alone at
home or traveling, I must take notes--(the ruling passion strong in
age and disablement, and even the approach of--but I must not say it
yet.) Then underneath the following excerpta--crossing the _t's_ and
dotting the _i's_ of certain moderate movements of late years--I am
fain to fancy the foundations of quite a lesson learn'd. After you
have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality,
love, and so on--have found that none of these finally satisfy, or
permanently wear--what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from
their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open
air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons--the sun by day and
the stars of heaven by night. We will begin from these convictions.
Literature flies so high and is so hotly spiced, that our notes may
seem hardly more than breaths of common air, or draughts of water to
drink. But that is part of our lesson.

Dear, soothing, healthy, restoration-hours--after three confining
years of paralysis--after the long strain of the war, and its wounds
and death.


[9] Without apology for the abrupt change of field and
atmosphere--after what I have put in the preceding fifty or sixty
pages--temporary episodes, thank heaven!--I restore my book to the
bracing and buoyant equilibrium of concrete outdoor Nature, the only
permanent reliance for sanity of book or human life.

Who knows, (I have it in my fancy, my ambition,) but the pages now
ensuing may carry ray of sun, or smell of grass or corn, or call of
bird, or gleam of stars by night, or snow-flakes falling fresh
and mystic, to denizen of heated city house, or tired workman or
workwoman?--or may-be in sick-room or prison--to serve as cooling
breeze, or Nature's aroma, to some fever'd mouth or latent pulse.


As every man has his hobby-liking, mine is for a real farm-lane fenced
by old chestnut-rails gray-green with dabs of moss and lichen, copious
weeds and briers growing in spots athwart the heaps of stray-pick' d
stones at the fence bases--irregular paths worn between, and horse and
cow tracks--all characteristic accompaniments marking and scenting
the neighborhood in their seasons--apple-tree blossoms in forward
April--pigs, poultry, a field of August buckwheat, and in another the
long flapping tassels of maize--and so to the pond, the expansion of
the creek, the secluded-beautiful, with young and old trees, and such
recesses and vistas.


So, still sauntering on, to the spring under the willows--musical as
soft clinking glasses-pouring a sizeable stream, thick as my neck,
pure and clear, out from its vent where the bank arches over like
a great brown shaggy eyebrow or mouth-roof--gurgling, gurgling
ceaselessly--meaning, saying something, of course (if one could only
translate it)--always gurgling there, the whole year through--never
giving out--oceans of mint, blackberries in summer--choice of light
and shade--just the place for my July sun-baths and water-baths
too--but mainly the inimitable soft sound-gurgles of it, as I sit
there hot afternoons. How they and all grow into me, day after
day--everything in keeping--the wild, just-palpable perfume, and the
dappled leaf-shadows, and all the natural-medicinal, elemental-moral
influences of the spot.

Babble on, O brook, with that utterance of thine! I too will express
what I have gather'd in my days and progress, native, subterranean,
past--and now thee. Spin and wind thy way--I with thee, a little
while, at any rate. As I haunt thee so often, season by season, thou
knowest, reckest not me, (yet why be so certain? who can tell?)--but
I will learn from thee, and dwell on thee--receive, copy, print from


Away then to loosen, to unstring the divine bow, so tense, so long.
Away, from curtain, carpet, sofa, book--from "society"--from city
house, street, and modern improvements and luxuries--away to the
primitive winding, aforementioned wooded creek, with its untrimm'd
bushes and turfy banks--away from ligatures, tight boots, buttons,
and the whole cast-iron civilized life--from entourage of artificial
store, machine, studio, office, parlor--from tailordom and fashion's
clothes--from any clothes, perhaps, for the nonce, the summer heats
advancing, there in those watery, shaded solitudes. Away, thou soul,
(let me pick thee out singly, reader dear, and talk in perfect
freedom, negligently, confidentially,) for one day and night at least,
returning to the naked source-life of us all--to the breast of the
great silent savage all-acceptive Mother. Alas! how many of us are
so sodden--how many have wander'd so far away, that return is almost

But to my jottings, taking them as they come, from the heap, without
particular selection. There is little consecutiveness in dates. They
run any time within nearly five or six years. Each was carelessly
pencilled in the open air, at the time and place. The printers will
learn this to some vexation perhaps, as much of their copy is from
those hastily-written first notes.


Did you ever chance to hear the midnight flight of birds passing
through the air and darkness overhead, in countless armies, changing
their early or late summer habitat? It is something not to be
forgotten. A friend called me up just after 12 last night to mark the
peculiar noise of unusually immense flocks migrating north (rather
late this year.) In the silence, shadow and delicious odor of the
hour, (the natural perfume belonging to the night alone,) I thought it
rare music. You could _hear_ the characteristic motion--once or twice
"the rush of mighty wings," but often a velvety rustle, long drawn
out--sometimes quite near--with continual calls and chirps, and some
song-notes. It all lasted from 12 till after 3. Once in a while the
species was plainly distinguishable; I could make out the bobolink,
tanager, Wilson's thrush, white-crown'd sparrow, and occasionally from
high in the air came the notes of the plover.


May-month--month of swarming, singing, mating birds--the bumble-bee
month--month of the flowering lilac-(and then my own birth-month.) As
I jot this paragraph, I am out just after sunrise, and down towards
the creek. The lights, perfumes, melodies--the blue birds, grass birds
and robins, in every direction--the noisy, vocal, natural concert.
For undertones, a neighboring wood-pecker tapping his tree, and the
distant clarion of chanticleer. Then the fresh-earth smells--the
colors, the delicate drabs and thin blues of the perspective. The
bright green of the grass has receiv'd an added tinge from the last
two days' mildness and moisture. How the sun silently mounts in the
broad clear sky, on his day's journey! How the warm beams bathe all,
and come streaming kissingly and almost hot on my face.

A while since the croaking of the pond-frogs and the first white of
the dog-wood blossoms. Now the golden dandelions in endless profusion,
spotting the ground everywhere. The white cherry and pear-blows--the
wild violets, with their blue eyes looking up and saluting my feet, as
I saunter the wood-edge--the rosy blush of budding apple-trees--the
light-clear emerald hue of the wheat-fields--the darker green of the
rye--a warm elasticity pervading the air--the cedar-bushes
profusely deck'd with their little brown apples--the summer fully
awakening--the convocation of black birds, garrulous flocks of them,
gathering on some tree, and making the hour and place noisy as I sit

_Later._--Nature marches in procession, in sections, like the corps of
an army. All have done much for me, and still do. But for the last two
days it has been the great wild bee, the humble-bee, or "bumble," as
the children call him. As I walk, or hobble, from the farm-house down
to the creek, I traverse the before-mention'd lane, fenced by old
rails, with many splits, splinters, breaks, holes, &c., the choice
habitat of those crooning, hairy insects. Up and down and by and
between these rails, they swarm and dart and fly in countless myriads.
As I wend slowly along, I am often accompanied with a moving cloud
of them. They play a leading part in my morning, midday or sunset
rambles, and often dominate the landscape in a way I never before
thought of--fill the long lane, not by scores or hundreds only, but by
thousands. Large and vivacious and swift, with wonderful momentum
and a loud swelling, perpetual hum, varied now and then by something
almost like a shriek, they dart to and fro, in rapid flashes, chasing
each other, and (little things as they are,) conveying to me a new and
pronounc'd sense of strength, beauty, vitality and movement. Are they
in their mating season? or what is the meaning of this plenitude,
swiftness, eagerness, display? As I walk'd, I thought I was follow'd
by a particular swarm, but upon observation I saw that it was a rapid
succession of changing swarms, one after another.

As I write, I am seated under a big wild-cherry tree--the warm day
temper'd by partial clouds and a fresh breeze, neither too heavy nor
light--and here I sit long and long, envelop'd in the deep musical
drone of these bees, flitting, balancing, darting to and fro about me
by hundreds--big fellows with light yellow jackets, great glistening
swelling bodies, stumpy heads and gauzy wings--humming their
perpetual rich mellow boom. (Is there not a hint in it for a musical
composition, of which it should be the back-ground? some bumble-bee
symphony?) How it all nourishes, lulls me, in the way most needed; the
open air, the rye-fields, the apple orchards. The last two days have
been faultless in sun, breeze, temperature and everything; never two
more perfect days, and I have enjoy'd them wonderfully. My health is
somewhat better, and my spirit at peace. (Yet the anniversary of the
saddest loss and sorrow of my life is close at hand.)

Another jotting, another perfect day: forenoon, from 7 to 9, two
hours envelop'd in sound of bumble-bees and bird-music. Down in
the apple-trees and in a neighboring cedar were three or four
russet-back'd thrushes, each singing his best, and roulading in ways I
never heard surpass'd. Two hours I abandon myself to hearing them,
and indolently absorbing the scene. Almost every bird I notice has a
special time in the year--sometimes limited to a few days--when
it sings its best; and now is the period of these russet-backs.
Meanwhile, up and down the lane, the darting, droning, musical
bumble-bees. A great swarm again for my entourage as I return home,
moving along with me as before.

As I write this, two or three weeks later, I am sitting near the brook
under a tulip tree, 70 feet high, thick with the fresh verdure of its
young maturity--a beautiful object--every branch, every leaf perfect.
From top to bottom, seeking the sweet juice in the blossoms, it swarms
with myriads of these wild bees, whose loud and steady humming makes
an undertone to the whole, and to my mood and the hour. All of which I
will bring to a close by extracting the following verses from Henry A.
Beers's little volume:

As I lay yonder in tall grass
A drunken bumble-bee went past

Delirious with honey toddy.
The golden sash about his body
Scarce kept it in his swollen belly
Distent with honeysuckle jelly.
Rose liquor and the sweet-pea wine
Had fill' d his soul with song divine;
Deep had he drunk the warm night through,
His hairy thighs were wet with dew.
Full many an antic he had play'd
While the world went round through sleep and shade.
Oft had he lit with thirsty lip
Some flower-cup's nectar'd sweets to sip,
When on smooth petals he would slip,
Or over tangled stamens trip,
And headlong in the pollen roll'd,
Crawl out quite dusted o'er with gold;
Or else his heavy feet would stumble
Against some bud, and down he'd tumble
Amongst the grass; there lie and grumble
In low, soft bass--poor maudlin bumble!


As I journey'd to-day in a light wagon ten or twelve miles through the
country, nothing pleas'd me more, in their homely beauty and novelty
(I had either never seen the little things to such advantage, or had
never noticed them before) than that peculiar fruit, with its profuse
clear-yellow dangles of inch-long silk or yarn, in boundless profusion
spotting the dark green cedar bushes--contrasting well with their
bronze tufts--the flossy shreds covering the knobs all over, like a
shock of wild hair on elfin pates. On my ramble afterward down by
the creek I pluck'd one from its bush, and shall keep it. These
cedar-apples last only a little while however, and soon crumble and


_June 10th_.--As I write, 5-1/2 P.M., here by the creek, nothing can
exceed the quiet splendor and freshness around me. We had a heavy
shower, with brief thunder and lightning, in the middle of the day;
and since, overhead, one of those not uncommon yet indescribable
skies (in quality, not details or forms) of limpid blue, with rolling
silver-fringed clouds, and a pure-dazzling sun. For underlay, trees
in fulness of tender foliage--liquid, reedy, long-drawn notes of
birds--based by the fretful mewing of a querulous cat-bird, and the
pleasant chippering-shriek of two kingfishers. I have been watching
the latter the last half hour, on their regular evening frolic over
and in the stream; evidently a spree of the liveliest kind. They
pursue each other, whirling and wheeling around, with many a jocund
downward dip, splashing the spray in jets of diamonds--and then off
they swoop, with slanting wings and graceful flight, sometimes so near
me I can plainly see their dark-gray feather-bodies and milk-white


_June 19th, 4 to 6-1/2, P.M._--Sitting alone by the creek--solitude
here, but the scene bright and vivid enough--the sun shining, and
quite a fresh wind blowing (some heavy showers last night,) the grass
and trees looking their best--the clare-obscure of different greens,
shadows, half-shadows, and the dappling glimpses of the water, through
recesses--the wild flageolet-note of a quail near by--the just-heard
fretting of some hylas down there in the pond--crows cawing in the
distance--a drove of young hogs rooting in soft ground near the oak
under which I sit--some come sniffing near me, and then scamper away,
with grunts. And still the clear notes of the quail--the quiver of
leaf-shadows over the paper as I write--the sky aloft, with white
clouds, and the sun well declining to the west--the swift darting of
many sand-swallows coming and going, their holes in a neighboring
marl-bank--the odor of the cedar and oak, so palpable, as evening
approaches--perfume, color, the bronze-and-gold of nearly ripen'd
wheat--clover-fields, with honey-scent--the well-up maize, with long
and rustling leaves--the great patches of thriving potatoes, dusky
green, fleck'd all over with white blossoms--the old, warty, venerable
oak above me--and ever, mix'd with the dual notes of the quail, the
soughing of the wind through some near-by pines.

As I rise for return, I linger long to a delicious song-epilogue (is
it the hermit-thrush?) from some bushy recess off there in the swamp,
repeated leisurely and pensively over and over again. This, to the
circle-gambols of the swallows flying by dozens in concentric rings in
the last rays of sunset, like flashes of some airy wheel.


The fervent heat, but so much more endurable in this pure air--the
white and pink pond-blossoms, with great heart-shaped leaves; the
glassy waters of the creek, the banks, with dense bushery, and the
picturesque beeches and shade and turf; the tremulous, reedy call of
some bird from recesses, breaking the warm, indolent, half-voluptuous
silence; an occasional wasp, hornet, honey-bee or bumble (they hover
near my hands or face, yet annoy me not, nor I them, as they appear to
examine, find nothing, and away they go)--the vast space of the sky
overhead so clear, and the buzzard up there sailing his slow whirl in
majestic spirals and discs; just over the surface of the pond, two
large slate-color'd dragon-flies, with wings of lace, circling and
darting and occasionally balancing themselves quite still, their
wings quivering all the time, (are they not showing off for my
amusement?)--the pond itself, with the sword-shaped calamus; the
water snakes--occasionally a flitting blackbird, with red dabs on his
shoulders, as he darts slantingly by--the sounds that bring out the
solitude, warmth, light and shade--the quawk of some pond duck--(the
crickets and grasshoppers are mute in the noon heat, but I hear the
song of the first cicadas;)--then at some distance the rattle and
whirr of a reaping machine as the horses draw it on a rapid walk
through a rye field on the opposite side of the creek--(what was the
yellow or light-brown bird, large as a young hen, with short neck and
long-stretch'd legs I just saw, in flapping and awkward flight over
there through the trees?)--the prevailing delicate, yet palpable,
spicy, grassy, clovery perfume to my nostrils; and over all,
encircling all, to my sight and soul, the free space of the sky,
transparent and blue--and hovering there in the west, a mass of
white-gray fleecy clouds the sailors call "shoals of mackerel"--the
sky, with silver swirls like locks of toss'd hair, spreading,
expanding--a vast voiceless, formless simulacrum--yet may-be the most
real reality and formulator of everything--who knows?


_Aug. 22_.--Reedy monotones of locust, or sounds of katydid--I hear
the latter at night, and the other both day and night. I thought the
morning and evening warble of birds delightful; but I find I can
listen to these strange insects with just as much pleasure. A single
locust is now heard near noon from a tree two hundred feet off, as I
write--a long whirring, continued, quite loud noise graded in distinct
whirls, or swinging circles, increasing in strength and rapidity up to
a certain point, and then a fluttering, quietly tapering fall. Each
strain is continued from one to two minutes. The locust-song is very
appropriate to the scene--gushes, has meaning, is masculine, is like
some fine old wine, not sweet, but far better than sweet.

But the katydid--how shall I describe its piquant utterances? One
sings from a willow-tree just outside my open bedroom window, twenty
yards distant; every clear night for a fortnight past has sooth'd me
to sleep. I rode through a piece of woods for a hundred rods the other
evening, and heard the katydids by myriads--very curious for once; but
I like better my single neighbor on the tree. Let me say more about
the song of the locust, even to repetition; a long, chromatic,
tremulous crescendo, like a brass disk whirling round and round,
emitting wave after wave of notes, beginning with a certain moderate
beat or measure, rapidly increasing in speed and emphasis, reaching
a point of great energy and significance, and then quickly
and gracefully dropping down and out. Not the melody of the
singing-bird--far from it; the common musician might think without
melody, but surely having to the finer ear a harmony of its own;
monotonous--but what a swing there is in that brassy drone, round and
round, cymballine--or like the whirling of brass quoits.


_Sept. 1_.--I should not take either the biggest or the most
picturesque tree to illustrate it. Here is one of my favorites now
before me, a fine yellow poplar, quite straight, perhaps 90 feet high,
and four thick at the butt. How strong, vital, enduring! how dumbly
eloquent! What suggestions of imperturbability and _being_, as
against the human trait of mere _seeming_. Then the qualities, almost
emotional, palpably artistic, heroic, of a tree; so innocent and
harmless, yet so savage. It _is_, yet says nothing. How it rebukes
by its tough and equable serenity all weathers, this gusty-temper'd
little whiffet, man, that runs indoors at a mite of rain or snow.
Science (or rather half-way science) scoffs at reminiscence of dryad
and hamadryad, and of trees speaking. But, if they don't, they do as
well as most speaking, writing, poetry, sermons--or rather they do
a great deal better. I should say indeed that those old
dryad-reminiscences are quite as true as any, and profounder than most
reminiscences we get. ("Cut this out," as the quack mediciners say,
and keep by you.) Go and sit in a grove or woods, with one or more of
those voiceless companions, and read the foregoing, and think.

One lesson from affiliating a tree--perhaps the greatest moral lesson
anyhow from earth, rocks, animals, is that same lesson of inherency,
of _what is_, without the least regard to what the looker-on (the
critic) supposes or says, or whether he likes or dislikes. What
worse--what more general malady pervades each and all of us, our
literature, education, attitude toward each other, (even toward
ourselves,) than a morbid trouble about _seems_, (generally
temporarily seems too,) and no trouble at all, or hardly any, about
the sane, slow-growing, perennial, real parts of character,
books, friendship, marriage--humanity's invisible foundations and
hold-together? (As the all-basis, the nerve, the great-sympathetic,
the plenum within humanity, giving stamp to everything, is necessarily

_Aug. 4, 6 P.M._--Lights and shades and rare effects on tree-foliage
and grass--transparent greens, grays, &c., all in sunset pomp and
dazzle. The clear beams are now thrown in many new places, on the
quilted, seam'd, bronze-drab, lower tree-trunks, shadow'd except at
this hour--now flooding their young and old columnar ruggedness with
strong light, unfolding to my sense new amazing features of
silent, shaggy charm, the solid bark, the expression of harmless
impassiveness, with many a bulge and gnarl unreck'd before. In the
revealings of such light, such exceptional hour, such mood, one does
not wonder at the old story fables, (indeed, why fables?) of people
falling into love-sickness with trees, seiz'd extatic with the mystic
realism of the resistless silent strength in them--_strength_, which
after all is perhaps the last, completest, highest beauty.

_Trees I am familiar with here_.

Oaks, (many kinds--one sturdy Willows.
old fellow, vital, green, bushy, Catalpas.
five feet thick at the butt, I sit Persimmons.
under every day,) Mountain-ash.
Cedars plenty. Hickories.
Tulip trees, (_Liriodendron,_) is of Maples, many kinds.
the magnolia family--I have Locusts.
seen it in Michigan and southern Birches.
Illinois, 140 feet high and Dogwood.
8 feet thick at the butt [A]; does Pine.
not transplant well; best rais'd the Elm.
from seeds--the lumbermen Chesnut.
call it yellow poplar.) Linden.
Sycamores. Aspen.
Gum trees, both sweet and sour. Spruce.
Beeches. Hornbeam.
Black-walnuts. Laurel.
Sassafras. Holly.


_Sept. 20_.--Under an old black oak, glossy and green, exhaling
aroma--amid a grove the Albic druids might have chosen--envelop'd in
the warmth and light of the noonday sun, and swarms[10] of flitting
insects--with the harsh cawing of many crows a hundred rods away--here
I sit in solitude, absorbing, enjoying all. The corn, stack'd in its
cone-shaped stacks, russet-color'd and sere--a large field spotted
thick with scarlet-gold pumpkins--an adjoining one of cabbages,
showing well in their green and pearl, mottled by much light
and shade--melon patches, with their bulging ovals, and great
silver-streak'd, ruffled, broad-edged leaves--and many an autumn sight
and sound beside--the distant scream of a flock of guinea-hens--and
pour'd over all the September breeze, with pensive cadence through the
tree tops.

_Another Day_.--The ground in all directions strew'd with _debris_
from a storm. Timber creek, as I slowly pace its banks, has ebb'd low,
and shows reaction from the turbulent swell of the late equinoctial.
As I look around, I take account of stock--weeds and shrubs, knolls,
paths, occasional stumps, some with smooth'd tops, (several I use as
seats of rest, from place to place, and from one I am now jotting
these lines,)--frequent wild-flowers, little white, star-shaped
things, or the cardinal red of the lobelia, or the cherry-ball seeds
of the perennial rose, or the many-threaded vines winding up and
around trunks of trees.

_Oct. 1, 2 and 3_.--Down every day in the solitude of the creek. A
serene autumn sun and westerly breeze to-day (3d) as I sit here, the
water surface prettily moving in wind-ripples before me. On a stout
old beech at the edge, decayed and slanting, almost fallen to the
stream, yet with life and leaves in its mossy limbs, a gray squirrel,
exploring, runs up and down, flirts his tail, leaps to the ground,
sits on his haunches upright as he sees me, (a Darwinian hint?) and
then races up the tree again.

_Oct. 4_.--Cloudy and coolish; signs of incipient winter. Yet pleasant
here, the leaves thick-falling, the ground brown with them already;
rich coloring, yellows of all hues, pale and dark-green, shades from
lightest to richest red--all set in and toned down by the prevailing
brown of the earth and gray of the sky. So, winter is coming; and I
yet in my sickness. I sit here amid all these fair sights and vital
influences, and abandon myself to that thought, with its wandering
trains of speculation.


[10] There is a tulip poplar within sight of Woodstown, which is
twenty feet around, three feet from the ground, four feet across about
eighteen feet up the trunk, which is broken off about three or four
feet higher up. On the south side an arm has shot out from which
rise two stems, each to about ninety-one or ninety-two feet from the
ground. Twenty-five (or more) years since the cavity in the butt was
large enough for, and nine men at one time, ate dinner therein. It is
supposed twelve to fifteen men could now, at one time, stand within
its trunk. The severe winds of 1877 and 1878 did not seem to damage
it, and the two stems send out yearly many blossoms, scenting the
air immediately about it with their sweet perfume. It is entirely
unprotected by other trees, on a hill.--_Woodstown, N. J., "Register,"
April 15, '79_.


_Oct. 20_.--A clear, crispy day--dry and breezy air, full of oxygen.
Out of the sane, silent, beauteous miracles that envelope and fuse
me--trees, water, grass, sunlight, and early frost--the one I am
looking at most to-day is the sky. It has that delicate, transparent
blue, peculiar to autumn, and the only clouds are little or larger
white ones, giving their still and spiritual motion to the great
concave. All through the earlier day (say from 7 to 11) it keeps a
pure, yet vivid blue. But as noon approaches the color gets lighter,
quite gray for two or three hours--then still paler for a spell, till
sun-down--which last I watch dazzling through the interstices of a
knoll of big trees--darts of fire and a gorgeous show of light-yellow,
liver-color and red, with a vast silver glaze askant on the water--the
transparent shadows, shafts, sparkle, and vivid colors beyond all the
paintings ever made.

I don't know what or how, but it seems to me mostly owing to these
skies, (every now and then I think, while I have of course seen them
every day of my life, I never really saw the skies before,) have had
this autumn some wondrously contented hours--may I not say perfectly
happy ones? As I have read, Byron just before his death told a friend
that he had known but three happy hours during his whole existence.
Then there is the old German legend of the king's bell, to the same
point. While I was out there by the wood, that beautiful sunset
through the trees, I thought of Byron's and the bell story, and the
notion started in me that I was having a happy hour. (Though perhaps
my best moments I never jot down; when they come I cannot afford to
break the charm by inditing memoranda. I just abandon myself to the
mood, and let it float on, carrying me in its placid extasy.)

What is happiness, anyhow? Is this one of its hours, or the like of
it?--so impalpable--a mere breath, an evanescent tinge? I am not
sure--so let me give myself the benefit of the doubt. Hast Thou,
pellucid, in Thy azure depths, medicine for case like mine? (Ah, the
physical shatter and troubled spirit of me the last three years.) And
dost Thou subtly mystically now drip it through the air invisibly upon

_Night of Oct. 28._--The heavens unusually transparent--the stars out
by myriads--the great path of the Milky Way, with its branch, only
seen of very clear nights--Jupiter, setting in the west, looks like a
huge hap-hazard splash, and has a little star for companion.

Clothed in his white garments,
Into the round and clear arena slowly entered the brahmin,
Holding a little child by the hand,
Like the moon with the planet Jupiter in a cloudless night-sky.

_Old Hindu Poem._

_Early in November._--At its farther end the lane already described
opens into a broad grassy upland field of over twenty acres, slightly
sloping to the south. Here I am accustom'd to walk for sky views and
effects, either morning or sundown. To-day from this field my soul
is calm'd and expanded beyond description, the whole forenoon by the
clear blue arching over all, cloudless, nothing particular, only sky
and daylight. Their soothing accompaniments, autumn leaves, the cool
dry air, the faint aroma--crows cawing in the distance--two great
buzzards wheeling gracefully and slowly far up there--the occasional
murmur of the wind, sometimes quite gently, then threatening through
the trees--a gang of farm-laborers loading cornstalks in a field in
sight, and the patient horses waiting.


Such a play of colors and lights, different seasons, different hours
of the day--the lines of the far horizon where the faint-tinged edge
of the landscape loses itself in the sky. As I slowly hobble up the
lane toward day-close, an incomparable sunset shooting in molten
sapphire and gold, shaft after shaft, through the ranks of the
long-leaved corn, between me and the west. _Another day_--The
rich dark green of the tulip-trees and the oaks, the gray of the
swamp-willows, the dull hues of the sycamores and black-walnuts,
the emerald of the cedars (after rain,) and the light yellow of the


The forenoon leaden and cloudy, not cold or wet, but indicating both.
As I hobble down here and sit by the silent pond, how different from
the excitement amid which, in the cities, millions of people are now
waiting news of yesterday's Presidential election, or receiving and
discussing the result--in this secluded place uncared-for, unknown.


_Nov. 14_.--As I sit here by the creek, resting after my walk, a warm
languor bathes me from the sun. No sound but a cawing of crows, and no
motion but their black flying figures from over-head, reflected in
the mirror of the pond below. Indeed a principal feature of the scene
to-day is these crows, their incessant cawing, far or near, and their
countless flocks and processions moving from place to place, and at
times almost darkening the air with their myriads. As I sit a moment
writing this by the bank, I see the black, clear-cut reflection of
them far below, flying through the watery looking-glass, by ones,
twos, or long strings. All last night I heard the noises from their
great roost in a neighboring wood.


One bright December mid-day lately I spent down on the New Jersey
sea-shore, reaching it by a little more than an hour's railroad trip
over the old Camden and Atlantic. I had started betimes, fortified by
nice strong coffee and a good breakfast (cook'd by the hands I love,
my dear sister Lou's--how much better it makes the victuals taste,
and then assimilate, strengthen you, perhaps make the whole day
comfortable afterwards.) Five or six miles at the last, our track
enter'd a broad region of salt grass meadows, intersected by lagoons,
and cut up everywhere by watery runs. The sedgy perfume, delightful
to my nostrils, reminded me of "the mash" and south bay of my native
island. I could have journey'd contentedly till night through these
flat and odorous sea-prairies. From half-past 11 till 2 I was nearly
all the time along the beach, or in sight of the ocean, listening
to its hoarse murmur, and inhaling the bracing and welcome breezes.
First, a rapid five-mile drive over the hard sand--our carriage wheels
hardly made dents in it. Then after dinner (as there were nearly two
hours to spare) I walk'd off in another direction, (hardly met or saw
a person,) and taking possession of what appear'd to have been the
reception-room of an old bath-house range, had a broad expanse of view
all to myself--quaint, refreshing, unimpeded--a dry area of sedge
and Indian grass immediately before and around me--space, simple,
unornamented space. Distant vessels, and the far-off, just visible
trailing smoke of an inward bound steamer; more plainly, ships, brigs,
schooners, in sight, most of them with every sail set to the firm and
steady wind.

The attractions, fascinations there are in sea and shore! How one
dwells on their simplicity, even vacuity! What is it in us, arous'd by
those indirections and directions? That spread of waves and gray-white
beach, salt, monotonous, senseless--such an entire absence of art,
books, talk, elegance--so indescribably comforting, even this winter
day--grim, yet so delicate-looking, so spiritual--striking emotional,
impalpable depths, subtler than all the poems, paintings, music,
I have ever read, seen, heard. (Yet let me be fair, perhaps it is
because I have read those poems and heard that music.)


Even as a boy, I had the fancy, the wish, to write a piece, perhaps a
poem, about the sea-shore--that suggesting, dividing line, contact,
junction, the solid marrying the liquid--that curious, lurking
something, (as doubtless every objective form finally becomes to the
subjective spirit,) which means far more than its mere first sight,
grand as that is--blending the real and ideal, and each made portion
of the other. Hours, days, in my Long Island youth and early manhood,
I haunted the shores of Rockaway or Coney island, or away east to
the Hamptons or Montauk. Once, at the latter place, (by the old
lighthouse, nothing but sea-tossings in sight in every direction as
far as the eye could reach,) I remember well, I felt that I must one
day write a book expressing this liquid, mystic theme. Afterward, I
recollect, how it came to me that instead of any special lyrical or
epical or literary attempt, the sea-shore should be an invisible
_influence_, a pervading gauge and tally for me, in my composition.
(Let me give a hint here to young writers. I am not sure but I have
unwittingly follow'd out the same rule with other powers besides sea
and shores--avoiding them, in the way of any dead set at poetizing
them, as too big for formal handling--quite satisfied if I could
indirectly show that we have met and fused, even if only once, but
enough--that we have really absorb'd each other and understand each

There is a dream, a picture, that for years at intervals, (sometimes
quite long ones, but surely again, in time,) has come noiselessly up
before me, and I really believe, fiction as it is, has enter'd largely
into my practical life--certainly into my writings, and shaped
and color'd them. It is nothing more or less than a stretch of
interminable white-brown sand, hard and smooth and broad, with the
ocean perpetually, grandly, rolling in upon it, with slow-measured
sweep, with rustle and hiss and foam, and many a thump as of low bass
drums. This scene, this picture, I say, has risen before me at times
for years. Sometimes I wake at night and can hear and see it plainly.


_Spoken at Lincoln Hall, Philadelphia, Sunday, Jan. 28, '77, for 140th
anniversary of T. P.'s birthday._

Some thirty-five years ago, in New York city, at Tammany hall, of
which place I was then a frequenter, I happen'd to become quite
well acquainted with Thomas Paine's perhaps most intimate chum, and
certainly his later years' very frequent companion, a remarkably fine
old man, Col. Fellows, who may yet be remember'd by some stray relics
of that period and spot. If you will allow me, I will first give a
description of the Colonel himself. He was tall, of military bearing,
aged about 78, I should think, hair white as snow, clean-shaved on
the face, dress'd very neatly, a tail-coat of blue cloth with metal
buttons, buff vest, pantaloons of drab color, and his neck, breast and
wrists showing the whitest of linen. Under all circumstances, fine
manners; a good but not profuse talker, his wits still fully about
him, balanced and live and undimm'd as ever. He kept pretty fair
health, though so old. For employment--for he was poor--he had a post
as constable of some of the upper courts. I used to think him very
picturesque on the fringe of a crowd holding a tall staff, with his
erect form, and his superb, bare, thick-hair'd, closely-cropt white
head. The judges and young lawyers, with whom he was ever a favorite,
and the subject of respect, used to call him Aristides. It was the
general opinion among them that if manly rectitude and the instincts
of absolute justice remain'd vital anywhere about New York City Hall,
or Tammany, they were to be found in Col. Fellows. He liked young men,
and enjoy'd to leisurely talk with them over a social glass of toddy,
after his day's work, (he on these occasions never drank but one
glass,) and it was at reiterated meetings of this kind in old
Tammany's back parlor of those days, that he told me much about Thomas
Paine. At one of our interviews he gave me a minute account of Paine's
sickness and death. In short, from those talks, I was and am satisfied
that my old friend, with his mark'd advantages, had mentally, morally
and emotionally gauged the author of "Common Sense," and besides
giving me a good portrait of his appearance and manners, had taken the
true measure of his interior character.

Paine's practical demeanor, and much of his theoretical belief, was a
mixture of the French and English schools of a century ago, and the
best of both. Like most old-fashion'd people, he drank a glass or two
every day, but was no tippler, nor intemperate, let alone being a
drunkard. He lived simply and economically, but quite well--was
always cheery and courteous, perhaps occasionally a little blunt,
having very positive opinions upon politics, religion, and so forth.
That he labor'd well and wisely for the States in the trying period of
their parturition, and in the seeds of their character, there seems to
me no question. I dare not say how much of what our Union is owning
and enjoying to-day--its independence--its ardent belief in, and
substantial practice of radical human rights--and the severance of
its government from all ecclesiastical and superstitious dominion--I
dare not say how much of all this is owing to Thomas Paine, but I am
inclined to think a good portion of it decidedly is.

But I was not going either into an analysis or eulogium of the man.
I wanted to carry you back a generation or two, and give you by
indirection a moment's glance--and also to ventilate a very earnest
and I believe authentic opinion, nay conviction, of that time, the
fruit of the interviews I have mention'd, and of questioning and
cross-questioning, clench'd by my best information since, that Thomas
Paine had a noble personality, as exhibited in presence, face, voice,
dress, manner, and what may be call'd his atmosphere and magnetism,
especially the later years of his life. I am sure of it. Of the foul
and foolish fictions yet told about the circumstances of his decease,
the absolute fact is that as he lived a good life, after its kind, he
died calmly and philosophically, as became him. He served the embryo
Union with most precious service--a service that every man, woman
and child in our thirty-eight States is to some extent receiving the
benefit of to-day--and I for one here cheerfully, reverently throw
my pebble on the cairn of his memory. As we all know, the season
demands--or rather, will it ever be out of season?--that America learn
to better dwell on her choicest possession, the legacy of her good and
faithful men--that she well preserve their fame, if unquestion'd--or,
if need be, that she fail not to dissipate what clouds have intruded
on that fame, and burnish it newer, truer and brighter, continually.


_Feb. 3, '77_--From 4 to 6 P. M. crossing the Delaware, (back again
at my Camden home,) unable to make our landing, through the ice; our
boat stanch and strong and skilfully piloted, but old and sulky, and
poorly minding her helm. (_Power_, so important in poetry and war, is
also first point of all in a winter steamboat, with long stretches of
ice-packs to tackle.) For over two hours we bump'd and beat about,
the invisible ebb, sluggish but irresistible, often carrying us long
distances against our will. In the first tinge of dusk, as I look'd
around, I thought there could not be presented a more chilling,
arctic, grim-extended, depressing scene. Everything was yet plainly
visible; for miles north and south, ice, ice, ice, mostly broken,
but some big cakes, and no clear water in sight. The shores, piers,
surfaces, roofs, shipping, mantled with snow. A faint winter vapor
hung a fitting accompaniment around and over the endless whitish
spread, and gave it just a tinge of steel and brown.

_Feb. 6_.--As I cross home in the 6 P. M. boat again, the transparent
shadows are filled everywhere with leisurely falling, slightly
slanting, curiously sparse but very large, flakes of snow. On the
shores, near and far, the glow of just-lit gas-clusters at intervals.
The ice, sometimes in hummocks, sometimes floating fields, through
which our boat goes crunching. The light permeated by that peculiar
evening haze, right after sunset, which sometimes renders quite
distant objects so distinctly.


_Feb. 10_.--The first chirping, almost singing, of a bird to-day. Then
I noticed a couple of honey-bees spirting and humming about the open
window in the sun.

_Feb. 11_.--In the soft rose and pale gold of the declining light,
this beautiful evening, I heard the first hum and preparation of
awakening spring--very faint--whether in the earth or roots, or
starting of insects, I know not--but it was audible, as I lean'd on a
rail (I am down in my country quarters awhile,) and look'd long at the
western horizon. Turning to the east, Sirius, as the shadows deepen'd,
came forth in dazzling splendor. And great Orion; and a little to the
north-east the big Dipper, standing on end.

_Feb. 20_.--A solitary and pleasant sundown hour at the pond,
exercising arms, chest, my whole body, by a tough oak sapling thick as
my wrist, twelve feet high--pulling and pushing, inspiring the good
air. After I wrestle with the tree awhile, I can feel its young sap
and virtue welling up out of the ground and tingling through me from
crown to toe, like health's wine. Then for addition and variety I
launch forth in my vocalism; shout declamatory pieces, sentiments,
sorrow, anger, &c., from the stock poets or plays--or inflate my lungs
and sing the wild tunes and refrains I heard of the blacks down south,
or patriotic songs I learn'd in the army. I make the echoes ring, I
tell you! As the twilight fell, in a pause of these ebullitions, an
owl somewhere the other side of the creek sounded _too-oo-oo-oo-oo_,
soft and pensive (and I fancied a little sarcastic) repeated four or
five times. Either to applaud the negro songs--or perhaps an ironical
comment on the sorrow, anger, or style of the stock poets.


How is it that in all the serenity and lonesomeness of solitude, away
off here amid the hush of the forest, alone, or as I have found in
prairie wilds, or mountain stillness, one is never entirely without
the instinct of looking around, (I never am, and others tell me the
same of themselves, confidentially,) for somebody to appear, or
start up out of the earth, or from behind some tree or rock? Is it a
lingering, inherited remains of man's primitive wariness, from the
wild animals? or from his savage ancestry far back? It is not at all
nervousness or fear. Seems as if something unknown were possibly
lurking in those bushes, or solitary places. Nay, it is quite certain
there is--some vital unseen presence.


_Feb. 22_.--Last night and to-day rainy and thick, till mid-afternoon,
when the wind chopp'd round, the clouds swiftly drew off like
curtains, the clear appear'd, and with it the fairest, grandest,
most wondrous rainbow I ever saw, all complete, very vivid at its
earth-ends, spreading vast effusions of illuminated haze, violet,
yellow, drab-green, in all directions overhead, through which the sun
beam'd--an indescribable utterance of color and light, so gorgeous yet
so soft, such as I had never witness'd before. Then its continuance: a
full hour pass'd before the last of those earth-ends disappear'd. The
sky behind was all spread in translucent blue, with many little white
clouds and edges. To these a sunset, filling, dominating the esthetic
and soul senses, sumptuously, tenderly, full. I end this note by the
pond, just light enough to see, through the evening shadows, the
western reflections in its water-mirror surface, with inverted figures
of trees. I hear now and then the _flup_ of a pike leaping out, and
rippling the water.


_April 6_.--Palpable spring indeed, or the indications of it. I am
sitting in bright sunshine, at the edge of the creek, the surface just
rippled by the wind. All is solitude, morning freshness, negligence.
For companions my two kingfishers sailing, winding, darting, dipping,
sometimes capriciously separate, then flying together. I hear their
guttural twittering again and again; for awhile nothing but that
peculiar sound. As noon approaches other birds warm up. The reedy
notes of the robin, and a musical passage of two parts, one a clear
delicious gurgle, with several other birds I cannot place. To which
is join'd, (yes, I just hear it,) one low purr at intervals from some
impatient hylas at the pond-edge. The sibilant murmur of a pretty
stiff breeze now and then through the trees. Then a poor little dead
leaf, long frost-bound, whirls from somewhere up aloft in one wild
escaped freedom-spree in space and sunlight, and then dashes down to
the waters, which hold it closely and soon drown it out of sight. The
bushes and trees are yet bare, but the beeches have their wrinkled
yellow leaves of last season's foliage largely left, frequent cedars
and pines yet green, and the grass not without proofs of coming
fullness. And over all a wonderfully fine dome of clear blue, the play
of light coming and going, and great fleeces of white clouds swimming
so silently.


The soil, too--let others pen-and-ink the sea, the air, (as I
sometimes try)--but now I feel to choose the common soil for
theme--naught else. The brown soil here, (just between winter-close
and opening spring and vegetation)--the rain-shower at night, and
the fresh smell next morning--the red worms wriggling out of the
ground--the dead leaves, the incipient grass, and the latent life
underneath--the effort to start something--already in shelter'd spots
some little flowers--the distant emerald show of winter wheat and
the rye-fields--the yet naked trees, with clear insterstices, giving
prospects hidden in summer--the tough fallow and the plow-team, and
the stout boy whistling to his horses for encouragement--and there the
dark fat earth in long slanting stripes upturn'd.


_A little later--bright weather_.--An unusual melodiousness, these
days, (last of April and first of May) from the blackbirds; indeed all
sorts of birds, darting, whistling, hopping or perch'd on trees. Never
before have I seen, heard, or been in the midst of, and got so flooded
and saturated with them and their performances, as this current month.
Such oceans, such successions of them. Let me make a list of those I
find here:

Black birds (plenty,) Meadow-larks (plenty,)
Ring doves, Cat-birds (plenty,)
Owls, Cuckoos,
Woodpeckers, Pond snipes (plenty,)
King-birds, Cheewinks,
Crows (plenty,) Quawks,
Wrens, Ground robins,
Kingfishers, Ravens,
Quails, Gray snipes,
Turkey-buzzards, Eagles,
Hen-hawks, High-holes,
Yellow birds, Herons,
Thrushes, Tits,
Reed birds, Woodpigeons.

Early came the

Blue birds, Meadow-lark,
Killdeer, White-bellied swallow,
Plover, Sandpiper,
Robin, Wilson's thrush,
Woodcock, Flicker.


_May 2l_.--Back in Camden. Again commencing one of those unusually
transparent, full-starr'd, blue-black nights, as if to show that
however lush and pompous the day may be, there is something left
in the not-day that can outvie it. The rarest, finest sample of
long-drawn-out clear-obscure, from sundown to 9 o'clock. I went down
to the Delaware, and cross'd and cross'd. Venus like blazing silver
well up in the west. The large pale thin crescent of the new moon,
half an hour high, sinking languidly under a bar-sinister of cloud,
and then emerging. Arcturus right overhead. A faint fragrant sea-odor
wafted up from the south. The gloaming, the temper'd coolness, with
every feature of the scene, indescribably soothing and tonic--one
of those hours that give hints to the soul, impossible to put in a
statement. (Ah, where would be any food for spirituality without night
and the stars?) The vacant spaciousness of the air, and the veil'd
blue of the heavens, seem'd miracles enough.

As the night advanc'd it changed its spirit and garments to ampler
stateliness. I was almost conscious of a definite presence, Nature
silently near. The great constellation of the Water-Serpent stretch'd
its coils over more than half the heavens. The Swan with outspread
wings was flying down the Milky Way. The northern Crown, the Eagle,
Lyra, all up there in their places. From the whole dome shot down
points of light, rapport with me, through the clear blue-black. All
the usual sense of motion, all animal life, seem'd discarded, seem'd a
fiction; a curious power, like the placid rest of Egyptian gods, took
possession, none the less potent for being impalpable. Earlier I had
seen many bats, balancing in the luminous twilight, darting their
black forms hither and yon over the river; but now they altogether
disappear'd. The evening star and the moon had gone. Alertness and
peace lay camly couching together through the fluid universal shadows.

_Aug. 26_.--Bright has the day been, and my spirits an equal
_forzando_. Then comes the night, different, inexpressibly pensive,
with its own tender and temper'd splendor. Venus lingers in the west
with a voluptuous dazzle unshown hitherto this summer. Mars rises
early, and the red sulky moon, two days past her full; Jupiter at
night's meridian, and the long curling-slanted Scorpion stretching
full view in the south, Aretus-neck'd. Mars walks the heavens
lord-paramount now; all through this month I go out after supper and
watch for him; sometimes getting up at midnight to take another look
at his unparallel'd lustre. (I see lately an astronomer has made out
through the new Washington telescope that Mars has certainly one
moon, perhaps two.) Pale and distant, but near in the heavens, Saturn
precedes him.


Large, placid mulleins, as summer advances, velvety in texture, of a
light greenish-drab color, growing everywhere in the fields--at first
earth's big rosettes in their broad-leav'd low cluster-plants, eight,
ten, twenty leaves to a plant--plentiful on the fallow twenty-acre
lot, at the end of the lane, and especially by the ridge-sides of the
fences--then close to the ground, but soon springing up--leaves as
broad as my hand, and the lower ones twice as long--so fresh and dewy
in the morning--stalks now four or five, even seven or eight feet
high. The farmers, I find, think the mullein a mean unworthy weed,
but I have grown to a fondness for it. Every object has its lesson,
enclosing the suggestion of everything else--and lately I sometimes
think all is concentrated for me in these hardy, yellow-flower'd
weeds. As I come down the lane early in the morning, I pause before
their soft wool-like fleece and stem and broad leaves, glittering with
countless diamonds. Annually for three summers now, they and I have
silently return'd together; at such long intervals I stand or sit
among them, musing--and woven with the rest, of so many hours and
moods of partial rehabilitation--of my sane or sick spirit, here as
near at peace as it can be.


The axe of the wood-cutter, the measured thud of a single
threshing-flail, the crowing of chanticleer in the barn-yard, (with
invariable responses from other barn-yards,) and the lowing of
cattle--but most of all, or far or near, the wind--through the high
tree-tops, or through low bushes, laving one's face and hands so
gently, this balmy-bright noon, the coolest for a long time, (Sept.
2)--I will not call it _sighing_, for to me it is always a firm, sane,
cheery expression, through a monotone, giving many varieties, or swift
or slow, or dense or delicate. The wind in the patch of pine woods off
there--how sibilant. Or at sea, I can imagine it this moment, tossing
the waves, with spirits of foam flying far, and the free whistle, and
the scent of the salt--and that vast paradox somehow with all its
action and restlessness conveying a sense of eternal rest.

Other adjuncts._--But the sun and the moon here and these times. As
never more wonderful by day, the gorgeous orb imperial, so vast, so
ardently, lovingly hot--so never a more glorious moon of nights,
especially the last three or four. The great planets too--Mars never
before so flaming bright, so flashing-large, with slight yellow tinge,
(the astronomers say--is it true?--nearer to us than any time the past
century)--and well up, lord Jupiter, (a little while since close by
the moon)--and in the west, after the sun sinks, voluptuous Venus, now
languid and shorn of her beams, as if from some divine excess.


_Sunday, Aug. 27_.--Another day quite free from mark'd prostration and
pain. It seems indeed as if peace and nutriment from heaven subtly
filter into me as I slowly hobble down these country lanes and across
fields, in the good air--as I sit here in solitude with Nature--open,
voiceless, mystic, far removed, yet palpable, eloquent Nature. I merge
myself in the scene, in the perfect day. Hovering over the clear
brook-water, I am sooth'd by its soft gurgle in one place, and
the hoarser murmurs of its three-foot fall in another. Come, ye
disconsolate, in whom any latent eligibility is left--come get the
sure virtues of creek-shore, and wood and field. Two months (July and
August, '77,) have I absorb'd them, and they begin to make a new man
of me. Every day, seclusion--every day at least two or three hours of
freedom, bathing, no talk, no bonds, no dress, no books, no _manners_.

Shall I tell you, reader, to what I attribute my already much-restored
health? That I have been almost two years, off and on, without drugs
and medicines, and daily in the open air. Last summer I found a
particularly secluded little dell off one side by my creek, originally
a large dug-out marl-pit, now abandon'd, fill'd, with bushes, trees,
grass, a group of willows, a straggling bank, and a spring of
delicious water running right through the middle of it, with two or
three little cascades. Here I retreated every hot day, and follow it
up this summer. Here I realize the meaning of that old fellow who said
he was seldom less alone than when alone. Never before did I get so
close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me. By old
habit, I pencill'd down from time to time, almost automatically,
moods, sights, hours, tints and outlines, on the spot. Let me
specially record the satisfaction of this current forenoon, so serene
and primitive, so conventionally exceptional, natural.

An hour or so after breakfast I wended my way down to the recesses of
the aforesaid dell, which I and certain thrushes, cat-birds, &c., had
all to ourselves. A light south-west wind was blowing through the
tree-tops. It was just the place and time for my Adamic air-bath and
flesh-brushing from head to foot. So hanging clothes on a rail near
by, keeping old broadbrim straw on head and easy shoes on feet, havn't
I had a good time the last two hours! First with the stiff-elastic
bristles rasping arms, breast, sides, till they turn'd scarlet--then
partially bathing in the clear waters of the running brook--taking
everything very leisurely, with many rests and pauses--stepping about
barefooted every few minutes now and then in some neighboring black
ooze, for unctuous mud-bath to my feet--a brief second and third
rinsing in the crystal running waters--rubbing with the fragrant
towel--slow negligent promenades on the turf up and down in the
sun, varied with occasional rests, and further frictions of the
bristle-brush--sometimes carrying my portable chair with me from
place to place, as my range is quite extensive here, nearly a hundred
rods, feeling quite secure from intrusion, (and that indeed I am not
at all nervous about, if it accidentally happens.)

As I walk'd slowly over the grass, the sun shone out enough to show
the shadow moving with me. Somehow I seem'd to get identity with each
and every thing around me, in its condition. Nature was naked, and I
was also. It was too lazy, soothing, and joyous-equable to speculate
about. Yet I might have thought somehow in this vein: Perhaps the
inner never-lost rapport we hold with earth, light, air, trees, &c.,
is not to be realized through eyes and mind only, but through the
whole corporeal body, which I will not have blinded or bandaged any
more than the eyes. Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature!--ah if
poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once
more! Is not nakedness then indecent? No, not inherently. It is your
thought, your sophistication, your tear, your respectability, that is
indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too
irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent. Perhaps indeed he or she
to whom the free exhilarating extasy of nakedness in Nature has never
been eligible (and how many thousands there are!) has not really known
what purity is--nor what faith or art or health really is. (Probably
the whole curriculum of first-class philosophy, beauty, heroism, form,
illustrated by the old Hellenic race--the highest height and deepest
depth known to civilization in those departments--came from their
natural and religious idea of Nakedness.)

Many such hours, from time to time, the last two summers--I attribute
my partial rehabilitation largely to them. Some good people may think
it a feeble or half-crack'd way of spending one's time and thinking.
May-be it is.


_Sept. 5, '77._--I write this, 11 A.M., shelter'd under a dense oak by
the bank, where I have taken refuge from a sudden rain. I came down
here, (we had sulky drizzles all the morning, but an hour ago a lull,)
for the before-mention'd daily and simple exercise I am fond of--to
pull on that young hickory sapling out there--to sway and yield to its
tough-limber upright stem--haply to get into my old sinews some of
its elastic fibre and clear sap. I stand on the turf and take these
health-pulls moderately and at intervals for nearly an hour, inhaling
great draughts of fresh air. Wandering by the creek, I have three or
four naturally favorable spots where I rest--besides a chair I
lug with me and use for more deliberate occasions. At other spots
convenient I have selected, besides the hickory just named, strong and
limber boughs of beech or holly, in easy-reaching distance, for my
natural gymnasia, for arms, chest, trunk-muscles. I can soon feel
the sap and sinew rising through me, like mercury to heat. I hold
on boughs or slender trees caressingly there in the sun and shade,
wrestle with their innocent stalwartness--and _know_ the virtue
thereof passes from them into me. (Or may-be we interchange--may-be
the trees are more aware of it all than I ever thought.)

But now pleasantly imprison'd here under the big oak--the rain
dripping, and the sky cover'd with leaden clouds--nothing but the pond
on one side, and the other a spread of grass, spotted with the milky
blossoms of the wild carrot--the sound of an axe wielded at some
distant wood-pile--yet in this dull scene, (as most folks would
call it,) why am I so (almost) happy here and alone? Why would any
intrusion, even from people I like, spoil the charm? But am I alone?
Doubtless there comes a time--perhaps it has come to me--when one
feels through his whole being, and pronouncedly the emotional part,
that identity between himself subjectively and Nature objectively
which Schelling and Fichte are so fond of pressing. How it is I know
not, but I often realize a presence here--in clear moods I am certain
of it, and neither chemistry nor reasoning nor esthetics will give the
least explanation. All the past two summers it has been strengthening
and nourishing my sick body and soul, as never before. Thanks,
invisible physician, for thy silent delicious medicine, thy day and
night, thy waters and thy airs, the banks, the grass, the trees, and
e'en the weeds!


While I have been kept by the rain under the shelter of my great
oak, (perfectly dry and comfortable, to the rattle of the drops
all around,) I have pencill'd off the mood of the hour in a little
quintette, which I will give you:

At vacancy with Nature,
Acceptive and at ease,
Distilling the present hour,
Whatever, wherever it is,
And over the past, oblivion.

Can you get hold of it, reader dear? and how do you like it anyhow?


Where I was stopping I saw the first palpable frost, on my sunrise
walk, October 6; all over the yet-green spread a light blue-gray veil,
giving a new show to the entire landscape. I had but little time
to notice it, for the sun rose cloudless and mellow-warm, and as I
returned along the lane it had turn'd to glittering patches of wet. As
I walk I notice the bursting pods of wild-cotton, (Indian hemp they
call it here,) with flossy-silky contents, and dark red-brown seeds--a
startled rabbit--I pull a handful of the balsamic life-ever-lasting
and stuff it down in my trowsers-pocket for scent.


_December 20_.--Somehow I got thinking to-day of young men's
deaths--not at all sadly or sentimentally, but gravely, realistically,
perhaps a little artistically. Let me give the following three cases
from budgets of personal memoranda, which I have been turning over,
alone in my room, and resuming and dwelling on, this rainy afternoon.
Who is there to whom the theme does not come home? Then I don't know
how it may be to others, but to me not only is there nothing gloomy or
depressing in such cases--on the contrary, as reminiscences, I find
them soothing, bracing, tonic.

ERASTUS HASKELL.--[I just transcribe verbatim from a letter written
by myself in one of the army hospitals, 16 years ago, during the
secession war.] _Washington, July 28, 1863._--Dear M.,--I am writing
this in the hospital, sitting by the side of a soldier, I do not
expect to last many hours. His fate has been a hard one--he seems to
be only about 19 or 20--Erastus Haskell, company K, 141st N. Y.--has
been out about a year, and sick or half-sick more than half that
time--has been down on the peninsula--was detail'd to go in the band
as fifer-boy. While sick, the surgeon told him to keep up with the
rest--(probably work'd and march'd too long.) He is a shy, and seems
to me a very sensible boy--has fine manners--never complains--was sick
down on the peninsula in an old storehouse--typhoid fever. The
first week this July was brought up here--journey very bad, no
accommodations, no nourishment, nothing but hard jolting, and exposure
enough to make a well man sick; (these fearful journeys do the job for
many)--arrived here July 11th--a silent dark-skinn'd Spanish-looking
youth, with large very dark blue eyes, peculiar looking. Doctor F.
here made light of his sickness--said he would recover soon, etc.; but
I thought very different, and told F. so repeatedly; (I came near
quarreling with him about it from the first)--but he laugh'd, and
would not listen to me. About four days ago, I told Doctor he would in
my opinion lose the boy without doubt--but F. again laugh'd at me.
The next day he changed his opinion--brought the head surgeon of the
post--he said the boy would probably die, but they would make a hard
fight for him.

The last two days he has been lying panting for breath--a pitiful
sight. I have been with him some every day or night since he arrived.
He suffers a great deal with the heat--says little or nothing--is
flighty the last three days, at times--knows me always, however
--calls me "Walter"--(sometimes calls the name over and over and over
again, musingly, abstractedly, to himself.) His father lives at
Breesport, Chemung county, N. Y., is a mechanic with large family--is
a steady, religious man; his mother too is living. I have written to
them, and shall write again to-day--Erastus has not receiv'd a word
from home for months.

As I sit here writing to you, M., I wish you could see the whole
scene. This young man lies within reach of me, flat on his back, his
hands clasp'd across his breast, his thick black hair cut close; he is
dozing, breathing hard, every breath a spasm--it looks so cruel. He is
a noble youngster,--I consider him past all hope. Often there is no
one with him for a long while. I am here as much as possible.

WILLIAM ALCOTT, fireman. _Camden, Nov., 1874_.--Last Monday afternoon
his widow, mother, relatives, mates of the fire department, and his
other friends, (I was one, only lately it is true, but our love grew
fast and close, the days and nights of those eight weeks by the chair
of rapid decline, and the bed of death,) gather'd to the funeral
of this young man, who had grown up, and was well-known here. With
nothing special, perhaps, to record, I would give a word or two to his
memory. He seem'd to me not an inappropriate specimen in character and
elements, of that bulk of the average good American race that ebbs and
flows perennially beneath this scum of eructations on the surface.
Always very quiet in manner, neat in person and dress, good
temper'd--punctual and industrious at his work, till he could work no
longer--he just lived his steady, square, unobtrusive life, in its own
humble sphere, doubtless unconscious of itself. (Though I think there
were currents of emotion and intellect undevelop'd beneath, far deeper
than his acquaintances ever suspected--or than he himself ever did.)
He was no talker. His troubles, when he had any, he kept to himself.
As there was nothing querulous about him in life, he made no
complaints during his last sickness. He was one of those persons that
while his associates never thought of attributing any particular
talent or grace to him, yet all insensibly, really, liked Billy

I, too, loved him. At last, after being with him quite a good deal
--after hours and days of panting for breath, much of the time
unconscious, (for though the consumption that had been lurking in his
system, once thoroughly started, made rapid progress, there was still
great vitality in him, and indeed for four or five days he lay dying,
before the close,) late on Wednesday night, Nov. 4th, where we
surrounded his bed in silence, there came a lull--a longer drawn
breath, a pause, a faint sigh--another--a weaker breath, another sigh
--a pause again and just a tremble--and the face of the poor wasted
young man (he was just 26,) fell gently over, in death, on my hand, on
the pillow.

CHARLES CASWELL.--[I extract the following, verbatim, from a letter
to me dated September 29, from my friend John Burroughs, at
Esopus-on-Hudson, New York State.] S. was away when your picture came,
attending his sick brother, Charles--who has since died--an event
that has sadden'd me much. Charlie was younger than S., and a most
attractive young fellow. He work'd at my father's and had done so for
two years. He was about the best specimen of a young country farm-hand
I ever knew. You would have loved him. He was like one of your
poems. With his great strength, his blond hair, his cheerfulness and
contentment, his universal good will, and his silent manly ways, he
was a youth hard to match. He was murder'd by an old doctor. He had
typhoid fever, and the old fool bled him twice. He lived to wear out
the fever, but had not strength to rally. He was out of his head
nearly all the time. In the morning, as he died in the afternoon, S.
was standing over him, when Charlie put up his arms around S.'s neck,
and pull'd his face down and kiss'd him. S. said he knew then the end
was near. (S. stuck to him day and night to the last.) When I was home
in August, Charlie was cradling on the hill, and it was a picture to
see him walk through the grain. All work seem'd play to him. He had no
vices, any more than Nature has, and was belov'd by all who knew him.

I have written thus to you about him, for such young men belong to
you; he was of your kind. I wish you could have known him. He had the
sweetness of a child, and the strength and courage and readiness of a
young Viking. His mother and father are poor; they have a rough, hard
farm. His mother works in the field with her husband when the work
presses. She has had twelve children.


_February 7, 1878_.--Glistening sun today, with slight haze, warm
enough, and yet tart, as I sit here in the open air, down in my
country retreat, under an old cedar. For two hours I have been idly
wandering around the woods and pond, lugging my chair, picking out
choice spots to sit awhile--then up and slowly on again. All is peace
here. Of course, none of the summer noises or vitality; to-day hardly
even the winter ones. I amuse myself by exercising my voice in
recitations, and in ringing the changes on all the vocal and
alphabetical sounds. Not even an echo; only the cawing of a solitary
crow, flying at some distance. The pond is one bright, flat spread,
without a ripple--a vast Claude Lorraine glass, in which I study the
sky, the light, the leafless trees, and an occasional crow, with
flapping wings, flying overhead. The brown fields have a few white
patches of snow left.

_Feb. 9_.--After an hour's ramble, now retreating, resting, sitting
close by the pond, in a warm nook, writing this, shelter'd from the
breeze, just before noon. The _emotional_ aspects and influences of
Nature! I, too, like the rest, feel these modern tendencies (from
all the prevailing intellections, literature and poems,) to turn
everything to pathos, ennui, morbidity, dissatisfaction, death. Yet
how clear it is to me that those are not the born results, influences
of Nature at all, but of one's own distorted, sick or silly soul.
Here, amid this wild, free scene, how healthy, how joyous, how clean
and vigorous and sweet!

_Mid-afternoon_.--One of my nooks is south of the barn, and here I am
sitting now, on a log, still basking in the sun, shielded from the
wind. Near me are the cattle, feeding on corn-stalks. Occasionally a
cow or the young bull (how handsome and bold he is!) scratches and
munches the far end of the log on which I sit. The fresh milky odor
is quite perceptible, also the perfume of hay from the barn. The
perpetual rustle of dry corn-stalks, the low sough of the wind round
the barn gables, the grunting of pigs, the distant whistle of a
locomotive, and occasional crowing of chanticleers, are the sounds.

_Feb. 19._--Cold and sharp last night--clear and not much wind--the
full moon shining, and a fine spread of constellations and little and
big stars--Sirius very bright, rising early, preceded by many-orb'd
Orion, glittering, vast, sworded, and chasing with his dog. The earth
hard frozen, and a stiff glare of ice over the pond. Attracted by the
calm splendor of the night, I attempted a short walk, but was driven
back by the cold. Too severe for me also at 9 o'clock, when I came
out this morning, so I turn'd back again. But now, near noon, I have
walk'd down the lane, basking all the way in the sun (this farm has a
pleasant southerly exposure,) and here I am, seated under the lee of
a bank, close by the water. There are bluebirds already flying about,
and I hear much chirping and twittering and two or three real songs,
sustain'd quite awhile, in the mid-day brilliance and warmth. (There!
that is a true carol, coming out boldly and repeatedly, as if the
singer meant it.) Then as the noon strengthens, the reedy trill of the
robin--to my ear the most cheering of bird-notes. At intervals, like
bars and breaks (out of the low murmur that in any scene, however
quiet, is never entirely absent to a delicate ear,) the occasional
crunch and cracking of the ice-glare congeal'd over the creek, as it
gives way to the sunbeams--sometimes with low sigh--sometimes with
indignant, obstinate tug and snort.

(Robert Burns says in one of his letters: "There is scarcely any
earthly object gives me more--I do not know if I should call it
pleasure--but something which exalts me--something which enraptures
me--than to walk in the shelter' d side of a wood in a cloudy winter
day, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees, and raving
over the plain. It is my best season of devotion." Some of his most
characteristic poems were composed in such scenes and seasons.)


_March 16_.--Fine, clear, dazzling morning, the sun an hour high, the
air just tart enough. What a stamp in advance my whole day receives
from the song of that meadow lark perch'd on a fence-stake twenty rods
distant! Two or three liquid-simple notes, repeated at intervals, full
of careless happiness and hope. With its peculiar shimmering slow
progress and rapid-noiseless action of the wings, it flies on a way,
lights on another stake, and so on to another, shimmering and singing
many minutes.


_May 6, 5 P. M._--This is the hour for strange effects in light and
shade-enough to make a colorist go delirious--long spokes of molten
silver sent horizontally through the trees (now in their brightest
tenderest green,) each leaf and branch of endless foliage a lit-up
miracle, then lying all prone on the youthful-ripe, interminable
grass, and giving the blades not only aggregate but individual
splendor, in ways unknown to any other hour. I have particular spots
where I get these effects in their perfection. One broad splash lies
on the water, with many a rippling twinkle, offset by the rapidly
deepening black-green murky-transparent shadows behind, and at
intervals all along the banks. These, with great shafts of horizontal
fire thrown among the trees and along the grass as the sun lowers,
give effects more and more peculiar, more and more superb, unearthly,
rich and dazzling.


_June 2_.--This is the fourth day of a dark northeast storm, wind and
rain. Day before yesterday was my birthday. I have now enter'd on
my 60th year. Every day of the storm, protected by overshoes and a
waterproof blanket, I regularly come down to the pond, and ensconce
myself under the lee of the great oak; I am here now writing these
lines. The dark smoke-color'd clouds roll in furious silence athwart
the sky; the soft green leaves dangle all around me; the wind steadily
keeps up its hoarse, soothing music over my head--Nature's mighty
whisper. Seated here in solitude I have been musing over my
life--connecting events, dates, as links of a chain, neither sadly nor
cheerily, but somehow, to-day here under the oak, in the rain, in an
unusually matter-of-fact spirit.

But my great oak--sturdy, vital, green-five feet thick at the butt. I
sit a great deal near or under him. Then the tulip tree near by--the
Apollo of the woods--tall and graceful, yet robust and sinewy,
inimitable in hang of foliage and throwing-out of limb; as if the
beauteous, vital, leafy creature could walk, if it only would. (I had
a sort of dream-trance the other day, in which I saw my favorite trees
step out and promenade up, down and around, very curiously--with a
whisper from one, leaning down as he pass'd me, _We do all this on the
present occasion, exceptionally, just for you_.)


_July 3d, 4th, 5th._--Clear, hot, favorable weather--has been a good
summer--the growth of clover and grass now generally mow'd. The
familiar delicious perfume fills the barns and lanes. As you go along
you see the fields of grayish white slightly tinged with yellow, the
loosely stack'd grain, the slow-moving wagons passing, and farmers in
the fields with stout boys pitching and loading the sheaves. The corn
is about beginning to tassel. All over the middle and southern states
the spear-shaped battalia, multitudinous, curving, flaunting--long,
glossy, dark-green plumes for the great horseman, earth. I hear the
cheery notes of my old acquaintance Tommy quail; but too late for the
whip-poor-will, (though I heard one solitary lingerer night before
last.) I watch the broad majestic flight of a turkey-buzzard,
sometimes high up, sometimes low enough to see the lines of his form,
even his spread quills, in relief against the sky. Once or twice
lately I have seen an eagle here at early candle-light flying low.


_June 15_.--To-day I noticed a new large bird, size of a nearly grown
hen--a haughty, white-bodied dark-wing'd hawk--I suppose a hawk from
his bill and general look--only he had a clear, loud, quite musical,
sort of bell-like call, which he repeated again and again, at
intervals, from a lofty dead tree-top, overhanging the water. Sat
there a long time, and I on the opposite bank watching him. Then he
darted down, skimming pretty close to the stream--rose slowly, a
magnificent sight, and sail'd with steady wide-spread wings, no
flapping at all, up and down the pond two or three times, near me, in
circles in clear sight, as if for my delectation. Once he came quite
close over my head; I saw plainly his hook'd bill and hard restless


How much music (wild, simple, savage, doubtless, but so tart-sweet,)
there is in mere whistling. It is four-fifths of the utterance of
birds. There are all sorts and styles. For the last half-hour, now,
while I have been sitting here, some feather'd fellow away off in the
bushes has been repeating over and over again what I may call a kind
of throbbing whistle. And now a bird about the robin size has just
appear'd, all mulberry red, flitting among the bushes--head, wings,
body, deep red, not very bright--no song, as I have heard. _4.
o'clock_: There is a real concert going on around me--a dozen
different birds pitching in with a will. There have been occasional
rains, and the growths all show its vivifying influences. As I finish
this, seated on a log close by the pond-edge, much chirping and
trilling in the distance, and a feather'd recluse in the woods near by
is singing deliciously--not many notes, but full of music of almost
human sympathy--continuing for a long, long while.


_Aug. 22_.--Not a human being, and hardly the evidence of one, in
sight. After my brief semi-daily bath, I sit here for a bit, the brook
musically brawling, to the chromatic tones of a fretful cat-bird
somewhere off in the bushes. On my walk hither two hours since,
through fields and the old lane, I stopt to view, now the sky, now
the mile-off woods on the hill, and now the apple orchards. What a
contrast from New York's or Philadelphia's streets! Everywhere great
patches of dingy-blossom'd horse-mint wafting a spicy odor through the
air, (especially evenings.) Everywhere the flowering boneset, and the
rose-bloom of the wild bean.


_July 14_.--My two kingfishers still haunt the pond. In the bright sun
and breeze and perfect temperature of to-day, noon, I am sitting here
by one of the gurgling brooks, dipping a French water-pen in the
limpid crystal, and using it to write these lines, again watching the
feather'd twain, as they fly and sport athwart the water, so close,
almost touching into its surface. Indeed there seem to be three of us.
For nearly an hour I indolently look and join them while they dart
and turn and take their airy gambols, sometimes far up the creek
disappearing for a few moments, and then surely returning again, and
performing most of their flight within sight of me, as if they knew I
appreciated and absorb'd their vitality, spirituality, faithfulness,
and the rapid, vanishing, delicate lines of moving yet quiet
electricity they draw for me across the spread of the grass, the
trees, and the blue sky. While the brook babbles, babbles, and the
shadows of the boughs dapple in the sunshine around me, and the cool
west-by-nor'-west wind faintly soughs in the thick bushes and tree

Among the objects of beauty and interest now beginning to appear quite
plentifully in this secluded spot, I notice the humming-bird, the
dragon-fly with its wings of slate-color'd guaze, and many varieties
of beautiful and plain butterflies, idly flapping among the plants and
wild posies. The mullein has shot up out of its nest of broad leaves,
to a tall stalk towering sometimes five or six feet high, now studded
with knobs of golden blossoms. The milk-weed, (I see a great gorgeous
creature of gamboge and black lighting on one as I write,) is in
flower, with its delicate red fringe; and there are profuse clusters
of a feathery blossom waving in the wind on taper stems. I see lots of
these and much else in every direction, as I saunter or sit. For
the last half hour a bird has persistently kept up a simple, sweet,
melodious song, from the bushes. (I have a positive conviction that
some of these birds sing, and others fly and flirt about here for my
special benefit.)


_New York City_.--Came on from West Philadelphia, June 13, in the 2 P.
M. train to Jersey City, and so across and to my friends, Mr. and Mrs.
J. H. J., and their large house, large family (and large hearts,)
amid which I feel at home, at peace--away up on Fifth avenue, near
Eighty-sixth street, quiet, breezy, overlooking the dense woody
fringe of the park--plenty of space and sky, birds chirping, and air
comparatively fresh and odorless. Two hours before starting, saw the
announcement of William Cullen Bryant's funeral, and felt a strong
desire to attend. I had known Mr. Bryant over thirty years ago, and he
had been markedly kind to me. Off and on, along that time for years as
they pass'd, we met and chatted together. I thought him very sociable
in his way, and a man to become attach'd to. We were both walkers,
and when I work'd in Brooklyn he several times came over, middle of
afternoons, and we took rambles miles long, till dark, out towards
Bedford or Flatbush, in company. On these occasions he gave me clear
accounts of scenes in Europe--the cities, looks, architecture, art,
especially Italy--where he had travel'd a good deal.

_June 14.--The Funeral_.--And so the good, stainless, noble old
citizen and poet lies in the closed coffin there--and this is his
funeral. A solemn, impressive, simple scene, to spirit and senses. The
remarkable gathering of gray heads, celebrities--the finely render'd
anthem, and other music--the church, dim even now at approaching noon,
in its light from the mellow-stain'd windows-the pronounc'd eulogy on
the bard who loved Nature so fondly, and sung so well her shows and
seasons--ending with these appropriate well-known lines:

I gazed upon the glorious sky,
And the green mountains round,
And thought that when I came to lie
At rest within the ground,
'Twere pleasant that in flowery June,
When brooks send up a joyous tune,
And groves a cheerful sound,
The sexton's hand, my grave to make,
The rich green mountain turf should break.


_June 2Oth_.--On the "Mary Powell," enjoy'd everything beyond
precedent. The delicious tender summer day, just warm enough--the
constantly changing but ever beautiful panorama on both sides of the
river--(went up near a hundred miles)--the high straight walls of
the stony Palisades--beautiful Yonkers, and beautiful Irvington--the
never-ending hills, mostly in rounded lines, swathed with
verdure,--the distant turns, like great shoulders in blue veils--the
frequent gray and brown of the tall-rising rocks--the river itself,
now narrowing, now expanding--the white sails of the many sloops,
yachts, &c., some near, some in the distance--the rapid succession of
handsome villages and cities, (our boat is a swift traveler, and
makes few stops)--the Race--picturesque West Point, and indeed all
along--the costly and often turreted mansions forever showing in some
cheery light color, through the woods--make up the scene.


_June 21_.--Here I am, on the west bank of the Hudson, 80 miles
north of New York, near Esopus, at the handsome, roomy,
honeysuckle-and-rose-enbower'd cottage of John Burroughs. The place,
the perfect June days and nights, (leaning toward crisp and cool,)
the hospitality of J. and Mrs. B., the air, the fruit, (especially my
favorite dish, currants and raspberries, mixed, sugar'd, fresh and
ripe from the bushes--I pick 'em myself)--the room I occupy at night,
the perfect bed, the window giving an ample view of the Hudson and the
opposite shores, so wonderful toward sunset, and the rolling music
of the RR. trains, far over there--the peaceful rest--the early
Venus-heralded dawn--the noiseless splash of sunrise, the light and
warmth indescribably glorious, in which, (soon as the sun is well up,)
I have a capital rubbing and rasping with the flesh-brush--with
an extra scour on the back by Al. J., who is here with us--all
inspiriting my invalid frame with new life, for the day. Then, after
some whiffs of morning air, the delicious coffee of Mrs. B., with the
cream, strawberries, and many substantials, for breakfast.


_June 22_.--This afternoon we went out (J. B., Al. and I) on quite a
drive around the country. The scenery, the perpetual stone fences,
(some venerable old fellows, dark-spotted with lichens)--the many
fine locust-trees--the runs of brawling water, often over descents of
rock--these, and lots else. It is lucky the roads are first-rate here,
(as they are,) for it is up or down hill everywhere, and sometimes
steep enough. B. has a tip-top horse, strong, young, and both gentle
and fast. There is a great deal of waste land and hills on the river
edge of Ulster county, with a wonderful luxuriance of wild flowers
and bushes--and it seems to me I never saw more vitality of
trees--eloquent hemlocks, plenty of locusts and fine maples, and
the balm of Gilead, giving out aroma. In the fields and along the
road-sides unusual crops of the tall-stemm'd wild daisy, white as milk
and yellow as gold.

We pass'd quite a number of tramps, singly or in couples--one squad, a
family in a rickety one-horse wagon, with some baskets evidently their
work and trade--the man seated on a low board, in front, driving--the
gauntish woman by his side, with a baby well bundled in her arms, its
little red feet and lower legs sticking out right towards us as we
pass'd--and in the wagon behind, we saw two (or three) crouching
little children. It was a queer, taking, rather sad picture. If I had
been alone and on foot, I should have stopp'd and held confab. But on
our return nearly two hours afterward, we found them a ways further
along the same road, in a lonesome open spot, haul'd aside, unhitch'd,
and evidently going to camp for the night. The freed horse was not far
off, quietly cropping the grass. The man was busy at the wagon, the
boy had gather'd some dry wood, and was making a fire--and as we went
a little further we met the woman afoot. I could not see her face, in
its great sun-bonnet, but somehow her figure and gait told misery,
terror, destitution. She had the rag-bundled, half-starv'd infant
still in her arms, and in her hands held two or three baskets, which
she had evidently taken to the next house for sale. A little barefoot
five-year old girl-child, with fine eyes, trotted behind her,
clutching her gown. We stopp'd, asking about the baskets, which we
bought. As we paid the money, she kept her face hidden in the recesses
of her bonnet. Then as we started, and stopp'd again, Al., (whose
sympathies were evidently arous'd,) went back to the camping group to
get another basket. He caught a look of her face, and talk'd with her
a little. Eyes, voice and manner were those of a corpse, animated by
electricity. She was quite young--the man she was traveling with,
middle-aged. Poor woman--what story was it, out of her fortunes, to
account for that inexpressibly scared way, those glassy eyes, and that
hollow voice?


_June 25_.--Returned to New York last night. Out to-day on the waters
for a sail in the wide bay, southeast of Staten island--a rough,
tossing ride, and a free sight--the long stretch of Sandy Hook, the
highlands of Navesink, and the many vessels outward and inward bound.
We came up through the midst of all, in the full sun. I especially
enjoy'd the last hour or two. A moderate sea-breeze had set in; yet
over the city, and the waters adjacent, was a thin haze, concealing
nothing, only adding to the beauty. From my point of view, as I write
amid the soft breeze, with a sea-temperature, surely nothing on earth
of its kind can go beyond this show. To the left the North river
with its far vista--nearer, three or four war-ships, anchor'd
peacefully--the Jersey side, the banks of Weehawken, the Palisades,
and the gradually receding blue, lost in the distance--to the right
the East river--the mast-hemm'd shores--the grand obelisk-like towers
of the bridge, one on either side, in haze, yet plainly defin'd, giant
brothers twain, throwing free graceful interlinking loops high across
the tumbled tumultuous current below--(the tide is just changing to
its ebb)--the broad water-spread everywhere crowded--no, not crowded,
but thick as stars in the sky--with all sorts and sizes of sail and
steam vessels, plying ferry-boats, arriving and departing coasters,
great ocean Dons, iron-black, modern, magnificent in size and power,
fill'd with their incalculable value of human life and precious
merchandise--with here and there, above all, those daring, careening
things of grace and wonder, those white and shaded swift-darting
fish-birds, (I wonder if shore or sea elsewhere can outvie them,) ever
with their slanting spars, and fierce, pure, hawk-like beauty and
motion--first-class New York sloop or schooner yachts, sailing, this
fine day, the free sea in a good wind. And rising out of the midst,
tall-topt, ship-hemm'd, modern, American, yet strangely oriental,
V-shaped Manhattan, with its compact mass, its spires, its
cloud-touching edifices group'd at the centre--the green of the trees,
and all the white, brown and gray of the architecture well blended,
as I see it, under a miracle of limpid sky, delicious light of heaven
above, and June haze on the surface below.


The general subjective view of New York and Brooklyn--(will not the
time hasten when the two shall be municipally united in one, and named
Manhattan?)--what I may call the human interior and exterior of these
great seething oceanic populations, as I get it in this visit, is to
me best of all. After an absence of many years, (I went away at the
outbreak of the secession war, and have never been back to stay
since,) again I resume with curiosity the crowds, the streets, I knew
so well, Broadway, the ferries, the west side of the city, democratic
Bowery--human appearances and manners as seen in all these, and along
the wharves, and in the perpetual travel of the horse-cars, or the
crowded excursion steamers, or in Wall and Nassau streets by day--in
the places of amusement at night--bubbling and whirling and moving
like its own environment of waters--endless humanity in all
phases--Brooklyn also--taken in for the last three weeks. No need to
specify minutely--enough to say that (making all allowances for the
shadows and side-streaks of a million-headed-city) the brief total of
the impressions, the human qualities, of these vast cities, is to me
comforting, even heroic, beyond statement. Alertness, generally fine
physique, clear eyes that look straight at you, a singular combination
of reticence and self-possession, with good nature and friendliness--a
prevailing range of according manners, taste and intellect, surely
beyond any elsewhere upon earth--and a palpable outcropping of that
personal comradeship I look forward to as the subtlest, strongest
future hold of this many-item'd Union--are not only constantly visible
here in these mighty channels of men, but they form the rule and
average. To-day, I should say--defiant of cynics and pessimists, and
with a full knowledge of all their exceptions--an appreciative and
perceptive study of the current humanity of New York gives the
directest proof yet of successful Democracy, and of the solution
of that paradox, the eligibility of the free and fully developed
individual with the paramount aggregate. In old age, lame and sick,
pondering for years on many a doubt and danger for this republic of
ours--fully aware of all that can be said on the other side--I find
in this visit to New York, and the daily contact and rapport with its
myriad people, on the scale of the oceans and tides, the best, most
effective medicine my soul has yet partaken--the grandest physical
habitat and surroundings of land and water the globe affords--namely,
Manhattan island and Brooklyn, which the future shall join in one city
--city of superb democracy, amid superb surroundings.


_July 22d, 1878_.--Living down in the country again. A wonderful
conjunction of all that goes to make those sometime miracle-hours
after sunset--so near and yet so far. Perfect, or nearly perfect days,
I notice, are not so very uncommon; but the combinations that make
perfect nights are few, even in a life time. We have one of those
perfections to-night. Sunset left things pretty clear; the larger
stars were visible soon as the shades allow'd. A while after 8, three
or four great black clouds suddenly rose, seemingly from different
points, and sweeping with broad swirls of wind but no thunder,
underspread the orbs from view everywhere, and indicated a violent
heatstorm. But without storm, clouds, blackness and all, sped and
vanish'd as suddenly as they had risen; and from a little after 9
till 11 the atmosphere and the whole show above were in that state
of exceptional clearness and glory just alluded to. In the northwest
turned the Great Dipper with its pointers round the Cynosure. A little
south of east the constellation of the Scorpion was fully up, with red
Antares glowing in its neck; while dominating, majestic Jupiter swam,
an hour and a half risen, in the east--(no moon till after 11.)
A large part of the sky seem'd just laid in great splashes of
phosphorus. You could look deeper in, farther through, than usual;
the orbs thick as heads of wheat in a field. Not that there was any
special brilliancy either--nothing near as sharp as I have seen of
keen winter nights, but a curious general luminousness throughout
to sight, sense, and soul. The latter had much to do with it. (I am
convinced there are hours of Nature, especially of the atmosphere,
mornings and evenings, address'd to the soul. Night transcends, for
that purpose, what the proudest day can do.) Now, indeed, if never
before, the heavens declared the glory of God. It was to the full sky
of the Bible, of Arabia, of the prophets, and of the oldest poems.
There, in abstraction and stillness, (I had gone off by myself to
absorb the scene, to have the spell unbroken,) the copiousness, the
removedness, vitality, loose-clear-crowdedness, of that stellar
concave spreading overhead, softly absorb'd into me, rising so free,
interminably high, stretching east, west, north, south--and I, though
but a point in the centre below, embodying all.

As if for the first time, indeed, creation noiselessly sank into and
through me its placid and untellable lesson, beyond--O, so infinitely
beyond!--anything from art, books, sermons, or from science, old or
new. The spirit's hour--religion's hour--the visible suggestion of God
in space and time--now once definitely indicated, if never again. The
untold pointed at--the heavens all paved with it. The Milky Way, as if
some superhuman symphony, some ode of universal vagueness, disdaining
syllable and sound--a flashing glance of Deity, address'd to the
soul. All silently--the indescribable night and stars--far off and

THE DAWN.--_July 23_.--This morning, between one and two hours before
sunrise, a spectacle wrought on the same background, yet of quite
different beauty and meaning. The moon well up in the heavens,
and past her half, is shining brightly--the air and sky of that
cynical-clear, Minerva-like quality, virgin cool--not the weight
of sentiment or mystery, or passion's ecstasy indefinable--not the
religious sense, the varied All, distill'd and sublimated into one, of
the night just described. Every star now clear-cut, showing for
just what it is, there in the colorless ether. The character of the
heralded morning, ineffably sweet and fresh and limpid, but for
the esthetic sense alone, and for purity without sentiment. I have
itemized the night--but dare I attempt the cloudless dawn? (What
subtle tie is this between one's soul and the break of day? Alike, and
yet no two nights or morning shows ever exactly alike.) Preceded by an
immense star, almost unearthly in its effusion of white splendor, with
two or three long unequal spoke-rays of diamond radiance, shedding
down through the fresh morning air below--an hour of this, and then
the sunrise.

THE EAST.--What a subject for a poem! Indeed, where else a more
pregnant, more splendid one? Where one more idealistic-real, more
subtle, more sensuous-delicate? The East, answering all lands, all
ages, peoples; touching all senses, here, immediate, now--and yet so
indescribably far off--such retrospect! The East--long-stretching--so
losing itself--the orient, the gardens of Asia, the womb of history
and song--forth-issuing all those strange, dim cavalcades--Florid with
blood, pensive, rapt with musings, hot with passion. Sultry with perfume,
with ample and flowing garment. With sunburnt visage, intense soul and
glittering eyes. Always the East--old, how incalculably old! And yet
here the same--ours yet, fresh as a rose, to every morning, every life,
to-day--and always will be.

_Sept. 17_. Another presentation--same theme--just before sunrise
again, (a favorite hour with me.) The clear gray sky, a faint glow
in the dull liver-color of the east, the cool fresh odor and the
moisture--the cattle and horses off there grazing in the fields--the
star Venus again, two hours high. For sounds, the chirping of crickets
in the grass, the clarion of chanticleer, and the distant cawing of an
early crow. Quietly over the dense fringe of cedars and pines rises
that dazzling, red, transparent disk of flame, and the low sheets of
white vapor roll and roll into dissolution.

THE MOON.--_May 18_.--I went to bed early last night, but found myself
waked shortly after 12, and, turning awhile, sleepless and mentally
feverish, I rose, dress'd myself, sallied forth and walk'd down the
lane. The full moon, some three or four hours up--a sprinkle of light
and less-light clouds just lazily moving--Jupiter an hour high in
the east, and here and there throughout the heavens a random star
appearing and disappearing. So beautifully veiled and varied--the air,
with that early-summer perfume, not at all damp or raw--at times
Luna languidly emerging in richest brightness for minutes, and then
partially envelop'd again. Far off a poor whip-poor-will plied his
notes incessantly. It was that silent time between 1 and 3.

The rare nocturnal scene, how soon it sooth'd and pacified me! Is
there not something about the moon, some relation or reminder, which
no poem or literature has yet caught? (In very old and primitive
ballads I have come across lines or asides that suggest it.) After a
while the clouds mostly clear'd, and as the moon swam on, she carried,
shimmering and shifting, delicate color-effects of pellucid green and
tawny vapor. Let me conclude this part with an extract, (some writer
in the "Tribune," May 16, 1878):

No one ever gets tired of the moon. Goddess that she is by dower of
her eternal beauty, she is a true woman by her tact--knows the charm
of being seldom seen, of coming by surprise and staying but a little
while; never wears the same dress two nights running, nor all night
the same way; commends herself to the matter-of-fact people by her
usefulness, and makes her uselessness adored by poets, artists, and
all lovers in all lands; lends herself to every symbolism and to
every emblem; is Diana's bow and Venus's mirror and Mary's throne;
is a sickle, a scarf, an eyebrow, his face or her face, and look'd
at by her or by him; is the madman's hell, the poet's heaven, the
baby's toy, the philosopher's study; and while her admirers follow
her footsteps, and hang on her lovely looks, she knows how to keep
her woman's secret--her other side--unguess'd and unguessable.

_Furthermore. February 19, 1880_.--Just before 10 P.M. cold and
entirely clear again, the show overhead, bearing southwest, of
wonderful and crowded magnificence. The moon in her third quarter
--the clusters of the Hyades and Pleiades, with the planet Mars
between--in full crossing sprawl in the sky the great Egyptian X,
(Sirius, Procyon, and the main stars in the constellations of the
Ship, the Dove, and of Orion;) just north of east Bootes, and in his
knee Arcturus, an hour high, mounting the heaven, ambitiously large
and sparkling, as if he meant to challenge with Sirius the stellar

With the sentiment of the stars and moon such nights I get all
the free margins and indefiniteness of music or poetry, fused in
geometry's utmost exactness.


_Aug. 4_.--A pretty sight! Where I sit in the shade--a warm day, the
sun shining from cloudless skies, the forenoon well advanc'd--I look
over a ten-acre field of luxuriant clover-hay, (the second crop)--the
livid-ripe red blossoms and dabs of August brown thickly spotting
the prevailing dark-green. Over all flutter myriads of light-yellow
butterflies, mostly skimming along the surface, dipping and
oscillating, giving a curious animation to the scene. The beautiful,
spiritual insects! straw-color'd Psyches! Occasionally one of them
leaves his mates, and mounts, perhaps spirally, perhaps in a straight
line in the air, fluttering up, up, till literally out of sight. In
the lane as I came along just now I noticed one spot, ten feet square
or so, where more than a hundred had collected, holding a revel, a
gyration-dance, or butterfly good-time, winding and circling, down and
across, but always keeping within the limits. The little creatures
have come out all of a sudden the last few days, and are now very
plentiful. As I sit outdoors, or walk, I hardly look around without
somewhere seeing two (always two) fluttering through the air in
amorous dalliance. Then their inimitable color, their fragility,
peculiar motion--and that strange, frequent way of one leaving the
crowd and mounting up, up in the free ether, and apparently never
returning. As I look over the field, these yellow-wings everywhere
mildly sparkling, many snowy blossoms of the wild carrot gracefully
bending on their tall and taper stems--while for sounds, the distant
guttural screech of a flock of guinea-hens comes shrilly yet somehow
musically to my ears. And now a faint growl of heat-thunder in the
north--and ever the low rising and falling wind-purr from the tops of
the maples and willows.

_Aug. 20_.--Butterflies and butterflies, (taking the place of the
bumble-bees of three months since, who have quite disappear'd,)
continue to flit to and fro, all sorts, white, yellow, brown,
purple--now and then some gorgeous fellow flashing lazily by on wings
like artists' palettes dabb'd with every color. Over the breast of
the pond I notice many white ones, crossing, pursuing their idle
capricious flight. Near where I sit grows a tall-stemm'd weed topt
with a profusion of rich scarlet blossoms, on which the snowy insects
alight and dally, sometimes four or five of them at a time. By-and-by
a humming-bird visits the same, and I watch him coming and going,
daintily balancing and shimmering about. These white butterflies give
new beautiful contrasts to the pure greens of the August foliage, (we
have had some copious rains lately,) and over the glistening bronze of
the pond-surface. You can tame even such insects; I have one big and
handsome moth down here, knows and comes to me, likes me to hold him
up on my extended hand.

_Another Day, later_.--A grand twelve-acre field of ripe cabbages with
their prevailing hue of malachite green, and floating-flying over and
among them in all directions myriads of these same white butterflies.
As I came up the lane to-day I saw a living globe of the same, two or
three feet in diameter, many scores cluster'd together and rolling
along in the air, adhering to their ball-shape, six or eight feet
above the ground.


_Aug. 23, 9-10 A.M._--I sit by the pond, everything quiet, the broad
polish'd surface spread before me--the blue of the heavens and the
white clouds reflected from it--and flitting across, now and then,
the reflection of some flying bird. Last night I was down here with
a friend till after midnight; everything a miracle of splendor--the
glory of the stars, and the completely rounded moon--the passing
clouds, silver and luminous-tawny--now and then masses of vapory
illuminated scud--and silently by my side my dear friend. The shades
of the trees, and patches of moonlight on the grass--the softly
blowing breeze, and just-palpable odor of the neighboring ripening
corn--the indolent and spiritual night, inexpressibly rich, tender,
suggestive--something altogether to filter through one's soul, and
nourish and feed and soothe the memory long afterwards.


This has been and is yet a great season for wild flowers; oceans
of them line the roads through the woods, border the edges of the
water-runlets, grow all along the old fences, and are scatter'd in
profusion over the fields. An eight-petal'd blossom of gold-yellow,
clear and bright, with a brown tuft in the middle, nearly as large
as a silver half-dollar, is very common; yesterday on a long drive I
noticed it thickly lining the borders of the brooks everywhere. Then
there is a beautiful weed cover'd with blue flowers, (the blue of the
old Chinese teacups treasur'd by our grand-aunts,) I am continually
stopping to admire--a little larger than a dime, and very plentiful.
White, however, is the prevailing color. The wild carrot I have spoken
of; also the fragrant life-everlasting. But there are all hues and
beauties, especially on the frequent tracts of half-opened scrub-oak
and dwarf cedar hereabout--wild asters of all colors. Notwithstanding
the frost-touch the hardy little chaps maintain themselves in all
their bloom. The tree-leaves, too, some of them are beginning to turn
yellow or drab or dull green. The deep wine-color of the sumachs and
gum-treesis already visible, and the straw-color of the dog-wood and
beech. Let me give the names of some of these perennial blossoms and
friendly weeds I have made acquaintance with hereabout one season or
another in my walks:

wild azalea, dandelions
wild honeysuckle, yarrow,
wild roses, coreopsis,
golden rod, wild pea,
larkspur, woodbine,
early crocus, elderberry,
sweet flag, (great patches of it,) poke-weed,
creeper, trumpet-flower, sun-flower,
scented marjoram, chamomile,

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