On the Road Between the Old and the New World
"I have made up my mind (with God's leave) to go to America - and to start as soon after Christmas as it will be safe" wrote Dickens to his editor, underlining each word twice. He made the trip, which lasted six months, between January and June of 1842 on the Britannia steam-packet. The itinerary on the continent began in Boston, continued to New York, Philadelphia, Washington and the southern states, then back up along the Mississippi River and ended at the Niagara Falls.
Throughout this period, the railroad was putting an end to stagecoach travel. The coaching days were coming to a close and Dickens, whose youth belonged to the 'pre-locomotive' days, was one of the last advocates for this type of travel with the mail stations and taverns or in a word jolly faring, as he called it, - jolly in traveling across the country - in spite of frost, rain, and lack of comfort. The railway was closely connected to navigation. The trains carried passengers and cargo along the shores of rivers and lakes, from which they then continued on steamboats.
During Dickens' visit to the United States there were approximately 1500 of these means of transportation, today they have completely disappeared. 1) Wood structures put them at risk of fire, not to mention the risk of explosion. It has been nearly four decades since Robert Fulton, born of Irish parents in Pennsylvania, navigated the first steamboat, the Clermont, up the Hudson River - he had accomplished it four years earlier on the Seine, but the French had not recognized him for it - connecting New York with Albany. It took 32 hours to cover the distance of 150 miles, 6 times less than navigating by sail. However, it was far from a guarantee of reliability. In addition, the steamboats were after the Spartan model, with a common sleeping area which, as the writer says, seemed like "library bookshelves".
The paddle-wheel steamboat Britannia, on which Dickens travelled was the first built for the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Racket Company, which later became the Cunard Steamship Company, to be used to deliver mail from Britain to America. About seventy feet long, made of wood, mostly oak, it was launched on February 5, 1840 on the Clyde, in Greenock. Together with three other ships, each the same, they provided monthly mail service from Liverpool to Halifax and Boston, funded by the British Post Office. It had three masts and two decks and a crew consisting of about ninety men, between officers and sailors. That which seems curious to us today, but at that time was quite common, is the 'stable', where they would keep a certain number of cows for fresh milk and meat. On board, in addition to the baker, the pastry chef and the cooks, was also a butcher. The hold had a capacity of 225 tonnes and for the passengers, in addition to the restaurant, there were 115 cabins.
The Britannia left Liverpool for the first crossing of the Atlantic on July 4, 1840, two years prior to the journey of the writer. In a newspaper from this time you could read that "the beautiful ship is so large that it was necessary to launch her from the middle of the Mersey River and to get the passengers on board with an auxiliary vessel." The ship arrived in Halifax 11 days later, with an average speed of 10 knots, a record that was to win the ship a decoration. Two years following the journey of Dickens the Boston Harbour was frozen over and the Britannia remained imprisoned, but the inhabitants of the city cut an opening, at their own expense, to cross the ice. The ship ended up crossing the Atlantic 40 times before being sold to the German Government in 1849 to be transformed into a warship.
The first American trans-Atlantic was built in 1847 for the Ocean Steam Navigation, which provided service between New York, Southampton and Bremen. The ship was heavier and slower than the British ships. In 1847, it left the port of New York the same day that the Britannia departed from Boston, but arrived two days later. In 1867 it was sold to be put to use in the Pacific.
1) Their latest model, the Delta Queen, finished its service in November of 2008. But since 1966, because of the General Slocum tragedy of 1904 in the New York Harbour, where a thousand people lost their lives; it was not permitted to sleep on board of this old timer.
Going to the new world, Dickens sought not to make comparisons. In the America's he was interested in the social scenes: politicians, social conventions, lack of hierarchies, the importance given to money from which comes so much prestige, the questionable use of military titles, the obtrusive questions, the disturbing intrusiveness and the excessive familiarity of the Americans to visitors, the voracious eating and drinking and the lack of good manners, which made him impatient. He correlated the eccentricities of individuals - not the least of which was that of chewing tobacco and spitting everywhere - with a general atmosphere in which they seemed inevitable. With humour he carried on with his investigation of the hypocrisies, vanity, corruption and distortions to which the citizens of that country were subject.
Nothing of what he saw meet his expectations. He thought he was visiting the country of justice, equality, democracy and discovered a violent society, greedy, conformist, who practiced slavery against which he lashed out on a real crusade.
He was accused of being a commercial traveller because during his trip he repeatedly brought up the copyright law, copyright that Americans did not pay. "Is it not a horrible thing that scoundrel-booksellers should grow rich from publishing books, the authors of which do not reap one farthing from their issue, by scores of thousands? And that every vile, blackguard, and detestable newspaper, should be able to publish those same writings, side by side, cheek by jowl, with the coarsest and most obscene companions. What thieves they are! "Dickens wrote to a friend, and added that more than once during banquets held in his honour, he filled the ears of the guests with these statements. He was accused of being ungrateful and following the publication of his travelogue, which contained criticism of the American society, all hell broke loose. But in an afterword, the author wrote: "My readers have opportunities of judging for themselves whether the influences and tendencies which I distrust in America, have any existence not in my imagination. They can examine for themselves whether there has been anything in the public career of that country during these past eight years, or whether there is anything in its present position, at home or abroad, which suggests that those influences and tendencies really do exist. Prejudiced, I am not, and never have been, otherwise than in favour of the United States. To represent me as viewing America with ill-nature, coldness, or animosity, is merely to do a very foolish thing: which is always a very easy one. I have many friends in America, and feel a grateful interest in the country."
On the January 22, a Saturday night, Dickens arrived at the Anglophile Boston, where he received a triumphal welcome. Crowds of people followed him; he didn’t have a moment of privacy and solitude, almost even in the hotel room. He was celebrated in theatres; dances were given in his honour. On the February 1 there was a large public dinner; the writer was exhausted and happy at the same time. A reporter from the Worcester Egis described him as follows: "a middle-sized person in a brown frock coat, a red figured vest, somewhat of the flash order, and a fancy scarf cravat, that concealed the collar and was fastened to the bosom in rather voluptuous folds by a double pin and chain. He wore a gold watch guard over his vest, and a shaggy greatcoat of bear or buffalo skin that would excite the admiration of a Kentucky huntsman. His hair, which was long and dark, grew low upon his brow, had a wavy kink where it started from the head, and was naturally, or artificially, corkscrew, as it fell on either side of his face. The nose was slightly aquiline and his features, taken together, were well proportioned, of a glowing and cordial aspect, with more animation than grace, and more intelligence than beauty. In short, you frequently meet with similar-looking young men at the theatres and other public places, and you would infer that he found his enjoyments in the scenes of actual life, rather than in the retirement of a study, and those scenes he describes with such unrivalled precision and power. We believe that it is well understood that he draws his characters and incidents less from imagination than upon observation."
On the February 5 Dickens left for Worcester and Springfield. He travelled by river from Connecticut to Hartford and to New Haven, then, finally, arrived in New York. Also here there were numerous festivals and dinners in his honour. Here's how the Evening Post described a ceremony at the Carlton Hotel: "The fete at the Park Theatre, last evening, is described as one of the most magnificent that has ever been given in this city. The gorgeousness of the decorations and the splendour of the dresses, no less than the immense throng, glittering with silks and jewels, contributed to the show and impressiveness of the occasion. It is estimated that nearly three thousand people were present, all richly dressed and sparkling with animation. The doors of the theatre were thrown open at half-past seven o'clock, and such was the eagerness to get in that in less than an hour the whole area of this immense building was densely crowded. Great pains had been taken with the decoration of the theatre, and the lobbies, halls, saloons, boxes and green-rooms were each tastefully ornamented with festoons, wreaths, garlands, portraits and statues. The seats of the first tier were covered with white muslin, trimmed with gold, and the columns festooned with fine drapery. The second tier was ornamented with a series of medallions, rosettes and silver stars, representing the works of the distinguished guest of the evening, the centre ornament being the head of Mr Dickens, surmounted by an eagle holding a laurel wreath. Between the different dances the tableaux vivant were exhibited at the back of the stage. A curtain, painted like the frontispiece of the Pickwick Papers, was drawn up at the sound of a gong, when the artists procured for the occasion were discovered in attitudes and positions descriptive of several familiar passages from Mr Dickens' works, among which were characters from the Pickwick Club and Oliver Twist."
The writer left New York on Sunday, March 6, 1842, bound for Philadelphia. Today, whoever has to go from New York to Philadelphia goes to the train station in the centre of the city, gets on a train that takes him through a tunnel under the Hudson River and in two hours arrives in Philadelphia. The writer, however, had to use a train and a ferry which took about six hours to cover the route. An interesting point: the only time in which the writer did not mention the hotel where he stayed was in Philadelphia, at the United States hotel, located on Chestnut Street. In all other cities visited he had some kind of comment to make: they were good, bad, or mediocre. In a letter of complaint written to a friend we can deduce the reason for the omission: the owner of the hotel made him pay the bill for the period booked, not for the actual stay which was shorter, given that, due to his wife's illness, he had to delay his departure from New York by a week.
Wednesday, March 9, Dickens left Philadelphia for Washington. The first part of the trip he travelled by steamboat along the Delaware River, up to Wilmington. From there he took the train up to the Susquehanna River and arrived in front of Havre de Grace, in Maryland. Here he crossed the river by ferry and continued his journey by train. He stopped in Baltimore only for lunch and arrived in Washington by evening. The newspapers reported Dickens' stay in the capital as he visited the House of Representatives and Senate, where he attended the sessions and debates. Among the various invitations to dinner, he also accepted that of a certain John Taliaferro.
At 4 a.m. on Thursday, March 16, the boat on which Dickens boarded the previous evening set sail from Washington, ploughing the Potomac River. At Potomac Creek there was a stage couch that brought him to Fredericksburg, Virginia. As usual, Dickens was ensured to have his preferred place, in the box seat, beside the driver. The roads, impassable beyond all description, forced him to change seven carriages. But the drivers were very skilled and proceeded without incident. At Fredericksburg, Dickens and his wife took the train to Richmond. They crossed country that was bleak and lonely, abandoned plantations, rotted huts and infertile land.
Richmond was the farthest point south reached during the journey. Here Dickens visited tobacco plantations and factories, where they showed him "happy slaves, singing at work." But trying to deceive this man, friend of humanity, which praised that which was worthy of praise, but who was not willing to endorse immorality and injustice, especially slavery, was a futile effort.
From Richmond, on Sunday, March 20, Dickens returned to Baltimore via Washington and at 6.30 in the afternoon was in Harrisburg. In his entertaining account, a Philadelphia judge said that, arriving before the Buelher Hotel, where Dickens had stayed the previous night, he saw a large crowd waiting to take a look at the famous man. The judge tried to avoid the crowd and, although there were still several hours before the departure, he went to the boat docked on the canal. In a cabin, with the company of his old friend, there were a gentleman and a lady, presented to him as Charles Dickens and his wife; they also had got on board early to avoid the crowd and display of attention. The judge asked Dickens for an autograph for his daughter and the writer agreed, but he wrote his name at the top, near the edge of the paper and explained to the stunned applicant to have not left a blank space over his name to prevent somebody from being able to write a note or a bond over it.
"In the West, Dickens was not bespattered with that fulsome praise with which he was bedaubed in the East, but we admired his genius, and were prepared to greet him with warm and friendly hearts" wrote a reporter for the Pittsburgh Chronicle. "Here we let him see us as we were. Many of our citizens called upon him, and were delighted with the man whose writings had contributed so greatly to their enjoyment. We doubt not he was better pleased with the quiet hospitality of his reception in Pittsburgh, than he would have been if we had got up a Boz Ball or any other Gnome Fly to welcome him."
To Mrs Dickens, who claimed to consider remarkable the country she was visiting and to have been delighted with it, a Pittsburgh attorney said that probably she would have admired its vastness more when on the broad waters of the Ohio and Mississippi. Kate's response was that she hoped she would not be too nervous, as she was alarmed at the dreadful accidents on our rivers from boiler explosions. The attorney recommended taking a boat with Evan's safety valves. While the attorney was speaking with Mrs Dickens, the writer approached to ask for more information on the safety valves.
On April 1, Dickens embarked on the steamboat Messenger. The description of the scenery along the Ohio River made by the writer - miles and miles of solitude unbroken by any sign of human life, only grisly skeletons of trees - has been challenged by several people, who have suggested that the mist, often on the river, prevented Dickens from seeing the fifty landing-places in between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, which were close to rising towns and villages, the vast cultivated clearings, the steep wooded hills alternating with valleys covered with oak trees and the beautiful islands of unsurpassed beauty.
On Saturday morning, April 9, Dickens arrived in the city of Cairo, described as situated in a horrible and detestable morass. Local newspapers contended stressing that the tardy growth of this city could be ascribed in great measure to the illiberal policy of the English Company which purchased the land and attempted to establish a monopoly of the whole ground, and made mere tenancy of all the settlers.
From Cincinnati, where he arrived Tuesday, April 19, the writer headed to the north. Here's what Dickens' secretary, Mr Putnam George Washington, wrote in his travel journal entitled "Four Months with Charles Dickens": "We travelled all night, and a weary journey it was. Mrs Dickens sat on the back seat, and my place was on the middle seat by the window in front of her. Opposite me, through the night, sat a well-dressed man; but all night long he poured out a rain of tobacco spittle which, from the motion of the coach, fell on us in showers. I tried to screen Mrs Dickens, but notwithstanding my efforts, and the aid of a thick veil, she could not escape the disgusting results.
At Columbus we hired a stage-coach exclusively for our party, and the stage company sent an agent with the driver to go through with us. The upper portion of Ohio was largely at that time an unbroken forest, and the accommodations for travellers were very poor. Nothing but corn-bread and bacon could be obtained at the log cabins on the road, and so our good landlord had a basket of provisions put up for us to dine upon. The road was pretty good at first, but did not improve as we went on. The driver, at intervals of a dozen miles or so, would commence blowing his horn, to give notice at the station a mile or more ahead, that a relay of horses was to be ready. Soon after noon we came to a pleasant nook in the woods, not far from a log-cabin, and our basket of provisions was opened and the cloth spread upon the grass. The driver and his friend had dined at the log tavern which we passed a half-hour before. But before we dined, Mr Dickens, heaping up a large quantity of oranges, apples, nuts and raisins, which we had brought for dessert, and a quantity of wine added, requested me to take them to the driver and his companion. It was a little incident; but it was characteristic of that man throughout life to remember others.
Some dozen miles of corduroy roads now lay before us, full of holes which were never repaired. As the terrible jolting increased, Mr Dickens, taking two handkerchiefs, tied the ends of them to the door-posts on each side, and the other ends Mrs Dickens wound around her wrists and hands. This contrivance enabled the kind and patient lady to endure the torture of the 'Corduroy'. When we saw an uncommonly large hole we shouted 'Corduroy!' and prepared ourselves for the shock. But preparation was of little avail, for with all our strength we found it impossible to keep our places, but were constantly tumbling upon each other and picking ourselves up from the bottom of the coach.
As night came on a smart thunder-shower passed over us, and by the gleams of lightning we followed the winding forest road. The driver told us we should reach Upper Sandusky a little before midnight and stop there till morning. This was good news, for perhaps there never yet was a set of travellers more utterly worn out than ourselves. We looked forward with pleasure to supper, good clean beds and a few hours' sleep. The log tavern was a long, low structure, where we sat down to a supper of bacon, bread and butter and hot tea. Mr and Mrs Dickens had a room on the ground floor and into it all the trunks and baggage including overcoats and shawls were carried. There were no fastenings to either of the doors of his room, so he stacked trunks against it to block it."
The landlord, lighting a taflow candle, showed the secretary up a flight of outer stairs into the chamber or loft of the cabin. There were two beds in the room, one was already occupied by a man who snored in splendid style and the other bed literally swarmed with bugs, it was impossible to sleep. "After trying in vain for some time to endure the torment, I dressed and went down the stairs again outdoors" - writes the Secretary - "It was in April, and the night air was piercing cold. I could not obtain an overcoat or shawl, for they were all in Mr Dickens's room and I would not alarm Mrs Dickens by trying to get in. So I took to the coach. It was better than standing out doors, but as it was lined with leather, it was not very warm. I spent the night in useless attempts to catch a nap. As daylight began to glimmer ' I crowed ' very loudly several times, hoping that the old darkey who did the chores would think it was morning and get up and light the fires. But the ruse didn't succeed, though the 'crowing' was very well done, indeed. As soon as it was light, I got out and crept to the cabin. While I was standing there, Mrs Dickens, with a face full of trouble, and rubbing her wrists and hands, came from her room to the tin wash-basin provided for the public, which stood upon a stump near the door. ‘Oh, Mr P.,' said she, ' I have been almost devoured by the bugs! ‘I then related my 'experience,' which excited both her mirth and sympathy, and calling to her husband, I then told my experience again. We had breakfast, and, the coach being ready, we all got in and were on the point of starting, when the landlord mentioned that the 'Bill wasn't paid!' "I apologized to the landlord and explained that I had never before forgotten to pay all bills; but having spent the night in the coach, I had no consciousness of having stopped anywhere or owing anything. The landlord seemed not well pleased, but received his money sullenly, and we went on our way.
Our stage-coach ride across Ohio ended at Tiffin, a small town which we reached about noon, from whence was a railroad to Sandusky City on Lake Erie. The good landlord at Tiffin, finding who his guests were, did his best to please, and also to let the entire town know that 'Dickens was at his hotel.' And when we left the house for the depot, he had a large kind of wagon on springs, with seats very high, on which Mr and Mrs Dickens were placed. I think the driver was instructed to pass through all the principal streets of the place before he reached the railroad station, for we went at a slow pace and were a long time going; and the people awaited us in groups, as if by appointment, at the street corners and at the windows and doors of the houses; and if the inhabitants of Tiffin, Ohio, did not on that occasion see 'Boz' and his wife, it certainly was not the fault of that good landlord or of his carriage driver.
The change from coach and corduroy to the rail was most grateful, and in the evening we reached Sandusky City. A lake steamer made her appearance in the harbour the next day, and we embarked for Buffalo. It was but a short ride from Buffalo to Niagara. Mr Dickens had been repeatedly warned not to expect too much of Niagara and told that people were often disappointed in their anticipation of the grandeur of the scene. Our journey, which lasted six months, had come to an end."
When I got into the streets upon this Sunday morning, the air was so clear, the houses were so bright and gay: the signboards were painted in such gaudy colours; the gilded letters were so very golden; the bricks were so very red, the stone was so very white, the blinds and area railings were so very green, the knobs and plates upon the street doors so marvellously bright and twinkling; and all so slight and unsubstantial in appearance —that every thoroughfare in the city looked exactly like a scene in a pantomime. It rarely happens in the business streets that a tradesman, if I may venture to call anybody a tradesman, where everybody is a merchant, resides above his store; so that many occupations are often carried on in one house, and the whole front is covered with boards and inscriptions. As I walked along, I kept glancing up at these boards, confidently expecting to see a few of them change into something; and I never turned a corner suddenly without looking out for the clown and pantaloon, who, I had no doubt, were hiding in a doorway or behind some pillar close at hand. As to Harlequin and Columbine, I discovered immediately that they lodged (they are always looking after lodgings in a pantomime) at a very small clockmaker’s one story high, near the hotel; which, in addition to various symbols and devices, almost covering the whole front, had a great dial hanging out — to be jumped through, of course.
The suburbs are, if possible, even more unsubstantial- looking than the city. The white wooden houses (so white that it makes one wink to look at them), with their green jalousie blinds, are so sprinkled and dropped about in all directions, without seeming to have any root at all in the ground; and the small churches and chapels are so prim, and bright, and highly varnished; that I almost believed the whole affair could be taken up piecemeal like a child’s toy, and crammed into a little box.
The city is a beautiful one, and cannot fail, I should imagine, to impress all strangers very favourably. The private dwelling-houses are, for the most part, large and elegant; the shops extremely good; and the public buildings handsome. The State House is built upon the summit of a hill, which rises gradually at first, and afterwards by a steep ascent, almost from the water’s edge. In front is a green enclosure, called the Common. The site is beautiful: and from the top there is a charming panoramic view of the whole town and neighbourhood. In addition to a variety of commodious offices, it contains two handsome chambers; in one the House of Representatives of the State hold their meetings: in the other, the Senate. Such proceedings as I saw here, were conducted with perfect gravity and decorum; and were certainly calculated to inspire attention and respect.
There is no doubt that much of the intellectual refinement and superiority of Boston, is referable to the quiet influence of the University of Cambridge, which is within three or four miles of the city. The resident professors at that university are gentlemen of learning and varied attainments; and are, without one exception that I can call to mind, men who would shed a grace upon, and do honour to, any society in the civilised world. Many of the resident gentry in Boston and its neighbourhood, and I think I am not mistaken in adding, a large majority of those who are attached to the liberal professions there, have been educated at this same school. Whatever the defects of American universities may be, they disseminate no prejudices; rear no bigots; dig up the buried ashes of no old superstitions; never interpose between the people and their improvement; exclude no man because of his religious opinions; above all, in their whole course of study and instruction, recognise a world, and a broad one too, lying beyond the college walls.
It was a source of inexpressible pleasure to me to observe the almost imperceptible, but not less certain effect, wrought by this institution among the small community of Boston; and to note at every turn the humanising tastes and desires it has engendered; the affectionate friendships to which it has given rise; the amount of vanity and prejudice it has dispelled. The golden calf they worship at Boston is a pigmy compared with the giant effigies set up in other parts of that vast counting-house which lies beyond the Atlantic; and the almighty dollar sinks into something comparatively insignificant, amidst a whole Pantheon of better gods.
Above all, I sincerely believe that the public institutions and charities of this capital of Massachusetts are as nearly perfect, as the most considerate wisdom, benevolence, and humanity, can make them. I never in my life was more affected by the contemplation of happiness, under circumstances of privation and bereavement, than in my visits to these establishments.
We are going to cross here. Take care of the pigs. Two portly sows are trotting up behind this carriage, and a select party of half-a-dozen gentlemen-hogs have just now turned the corner.
Here is a solitary swine, lounging homeward by himself. He has only one ear; having parted with the other to vagrant-dogs in the course of his city rambles. But he gets on very well without it; and leads a roving, gentlemanly, vagabond kind of life, somewhat answering to that of our club-men at home. He leaves his lodgings every morning at a certain hour, throws himself upon the town, gets through his day in some manner quite satisfactory to himself, and regularly appears at the door of his own house again at night, like the mysterious master of Gil Bias. He is a free-and-easy, careless, indifferent kind of pig, having a very large acquaintance among other pigs of the same character, whom he rather knows by sight than conversation, as he seldom troubles himself to stop and exchange civilities, but goes grunting down the kennel, turning up the news and small-talk of the city, in the shape of cabbage-stalks and offal, and bearing no tails but his own: which is a very short one, for his old enemies, the dogs, have been at that too, and have left him hardly enough to swear by. He is in every respect a republican pig, going wherever he pleases, and mingling with the best society, on an equal, if not superior footing, for every one makes way when he appears, and the haughtiest give him the wall, if he prefer it. He is a great philosopher, and seldom moved, unless by the dogs beforementioned. Sometimes, indeed, you may see his small eye twinkling on a slaughtered friend, whose carcase garnishes a butcher's door post, but he grunts out 'Such is life: all flesh is pork!' buries his nose in the mire again, and waddles down the gutter: comforting himself with the reflection that there is one snout the less to anticipate stray cabbage-stalks, at any rate.
They are the city scavengers, these pigs. Ugly brutes they are; having, for the most part, scanty, brown backs, like the lids of old horse-hair trunks: spotted with unwholesome black blotches. They have long, gaunt legs, too, and such peaked snouts, that if one of them could be persuaded to sit for his profile, nobody would recognize it for a pig's likeness. They are never attended upon, or fed, or driven, or caught, but are thrown upon their own resources in early life, and become preternaturally knowing in consequence. Every pig knows where he lives, much better than anybody could tell him. At this hour, just as evening is closing in, you will see them roaming towards bed by scores, eating their way to the last. Occasionally, some youth among them who has over-eaten himself, or has been much worried by dogs, trots shrinkingly homeward, like a prodigal son: but this is a rare case: perfect self-possession and self-reliance, and immovable composure, being their foremost attributes.
It is somewhat remarkable too, at first, to say the least, to see so many honourable members with swelled faces; and it is scarcely less remarkable to discover that this appearance is caused by the quantity of tobacco they contrive to stow within the hollow of the cheek. It is strange enough too, to see an honourable gentleman leaning back in his tilted chair with his legs on the desk before him, shaping a
convenient 'plug' with his penknife, and when it is quite ready for use, shooting the old one from his mouth, as from a pop-gun, and clapping the new one in its place.
I was surprised to observe that even steady old chewers of great experience, are not always good marksmen, which has rather inclined me to doubt that general proficiency with the rifle, of which we have heard so much in England. Several gentlemen called upon me who, in the course of conversation, frequently missed the spittoon at five paces; and one (but he was certainly short-sighted) mistook the closed sash for the open window, at three. On another occasion, when I dined out, and was sitting with two ladies and some gentlemen round a fire before dinner, one of the company fell short of the fire-place, six distinct times. I am disposed to think, however, that this was occasioned by his not aiming at that object; as there was a white marble hearth before the fender, which was more convenient, and may have suited his purpose better.
We called at the town of Erie, at eight o'clock that night, and lay there an hour. Between five and six next morning, we arrived at Buffalo, where we breakfasted; and being too near the Great Falls to wait patiently anywhere else, we set off by the train, the same morning at nine o'clock, to Niagara.
It was a miserable day; chilly and raw; a damp mist falling; and the trees in that northern region quite bare and wintry. Whenever the train halted, I listened for the roar; and was constantly straining my eyes in the direction where I knew the Falls must be, from seeing the river rolling on towards them; every moment expecting to behold the spray. Within a few minutes of our stopping, not before, I saw two great white clouds rising up slowly and majestically from the depths of the earth. That was all. At length we alighted: and then for the first time, I heard the mighty rush of water, and felt the ground tremble underneath my feet.
The bank is very steep, and was slippery with rain, and half-melted ice. I hardly know how I got down, but I was soon at the bottom, and climbing, with two English officers who were crossing and had joined me, over some broken rocks, deafened by the noise, half-blinded by the spray, and wet to the skin. We were at the foot of the American Fall. I could see an immense torrent of water tearing headlong down from some great height, but had no idea of shape, or situation, or anything but vague immensity.
When we were seated in the little ferry-boat, and were crossing the swoln river immediately before both cataracts, I began to feel what it was: but I was in a manner stunned, and unable to comprehend the vastness of the scene. It was not until I came on Table Rock, and looked - Great Heaven, on what a fall of bright-green water! — that it came upon me in its full might and majesty.
Then, when I felt how near to my Creator I was standing, the first effect, and the enduring one — instant and lasting — of the tremendous spectacle, was Peace. Peace of Mind: Tranquillity: Calm recollections of the Dead: Great Thoughts of Eternal Rest and Happiness: nothing of Gloom or Terror. Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, for ever.
Oh, how the strife and trouble of our daily life receded from my view, and lessened in the distance, during the ten memorable days we passed on that Enchanted Ground! What voices spoke from out the thundering water; what faces, faded from the earth, looked out upon me from its gleaming depths; what Heavenly promise glistened in those angels’ tears, the drops of many hues, that showered around, and twined themselves about the gorgeous arches which the changing rainbows made!
I never stirred in all that time from the Canadian side, whither I had gone at first. I never crossed the river again; for I knew there were people on the other shore, and in such a place it is natural to shun strange company. To wander to and fro all day, and see the cataracts from all points of view; to stand upon the edge of the Great Horse Shoe Fall, marking the hurried water gathering strength as it approached the verge, yet seeming, too, to pause before it shot into the gulf below; to gaze from the river's level up at the torrent as it came streaming down; to climb the neighbouring heights and watch it through the trees, and see the wreathing water in the rapids hurrying on to take its fearful plunge; to linger in the shadow of the solemn rocks three miles below; watching the river as, stirred by no visible cause, it heaved and eddied and awoke the echoes, being troubled yet, far down beneath the surface, by its giant leap; to have Niagara before me, lighted by the sun and by the moon, red in the day's decline, and grey as evening slowly fell upon it; to look upon it every day, and wake up in the night and hear its ceaseless voice: this was enough.
I think in every quiet season now, still do those waters roll and leap, and roar and tumble, all day long; still are the rainbows spanning them, a hundred feet below. Still, when the sun is on them, do they shine and glow like molten gold. Still, when the day is gloomy, do they fall like snow, or seem to crumble away like the front of a great chalk cliff, or roll adown the rock like dense white smoke. But always does the mighty stream appear to die as it comes down, and always from its unfathomable grave arises that tremendous ghost of spray and mist which is never laid: which has haunted this place with the same dread solemnity since Darkness brooded on the deep, and that first flood before the Deluge - Light - came rushing on Creation at the word of God.