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´╗┐Title: Sketches from Memory (From "Mosses from an Old Manse")
Author: Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sketches from Memory (From "Mosses from an Old Manse")" ***

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                     MOSSES FROM AN OLD MANSE

                      By Nathaniel Hawthorne

                       SKETCHES FROM MEMORY


It was now the middle of September.  We had come since sunrise from
Bartlett, passing up through the valley of the Saco, which extends
between mountainous walls, sometimes with a steep ascent, but often
as level as a church-aisle.  All that day and two preceding ones we
had been loitering towards the heart of the White Mountains,--those
old crystal hills, whose mysterious brilliancy had gleamed upon our
distant wanderings before we thought of visiting them.  Height after
height had risen and towered one above another till the clouds began
to hang below the peaks.  Down their slopes were the red pathways of
the slides, those avalanches of earth, stones, and trees, which
descend into the hollows, leaving vestiges of their track hardly to
be effaced by the vegetation of ages.  We had mountains behind us
and mountains on each side, and a group of mightier ones ahead.
Still our road went up along the Saco, right towards the centre of
that group, as if to climb above the clouds in its passage to the
farther region.

In old times the settlers used to be astounded by the inroads of the
Northern Indians, coming down upon them from this mountain rampart
through some defile known only to themselves.  It is, indeed, a
wondrous path.  A demon, it might be fancied, or one of the Titans,
was travelling up the valley, elbowing the heights carelessly aside
as he passed, till at length a great mountain took its stand
directly across his intended road.  He tarries not for such an
obstacle, but, rending it asunder a thousand feet from peak to base,
discloses its treasures of hidden minerals, its sunless waters, all
the secrets of the mountain's inmost heart, with a mighty fracture
of rugged precipices on each side. This is the Notch of the White
Hills.  Shame on me that I have attempted to describe it by so mean
an image, feeling, as I do, that it is one of those symbolic scenes
which lead the mind to the sentiment, though not to the conception,
of Omnipotence.

.     .     .     .     .

We had now reached a narrow passage, which showed almost the
appearance of having been cut by human strength and artifice in the
solid rock.  There was a wall of granite on each side, high and
precipitous, especially on our right, and so smooth that a few
evergreens could hardly find foothold enough to grow there. This is
the entrance, or, in the direction we were going, the extremity, of
the romantic defile of the Notch.  Before emerging from it, the
rattling of wheels approached behind us, and a stage-coach rumbled
out of the mountain, with seats on top and trunks behind, and a
smart driver, in a drab great-coat, touching the wheel-horses with
the whip-stock and reigning in the leaders. To my mind there was a
sort of poetry in such an incident, hardly inferior to what would
have accompanied the painted array of an Indian war-party gliding
forth from the same wild chasm.  All the passengers, except a very
fat lady on the back seat, had alighted.  One was a mineralogist, a
scientific, green-spectacled figure in black, bearing a heavy
hammer, with which he did great damage to the precipices, and put
the fragments in his pocket. Another was a well-dressed young man,
who carried an operaglass set in gold, and seemed to be making a
quotation from some of Byron's rhapsodies on mountain scenery.
There was also a trader, returning from Portland to the upper part
of Vermont; and a fair young girl, with a very faint bloom like one
of those pale and delicate flowers which sometimes occur among
alpine cliffs.

They disappeared, and we followed them, passing through a deep pine
forest, which for some miles allowed us to see nothing but its own
dismal shade.  Towards nightfall we reached a level amphitheatre,
surrounded by a great rampart of hills, which shut out the sunshine
long before it left the external world.  It was here that we
obtained our first view, except at a distance, of the principal
group of mountains.  They are majestic, and even awful, when
contemplated in a proper mood, yet, by their breadth of base and the
long ridges which support them, give the idea of immense bulk rather
than of towering height.  Mount Washington, indeed, looked near to
Heaven: he was white with snow a mile downward, and had caught the
only cloud that was sailing through the atmosphere to veil his head.
Let us forget the other names of American statesmen that have been
stamped upon these hills, but still call the loftiest WASHINGTON.
Mountains are Earth's undecaying monuments.  They must stand while
she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men
of their own age and country, but to the mighty ones alone, whose
glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious.

The air, not often sultry in this elevated region, nearly two
thousand feet above the sea, was now sharp and cold, like that of a
clear November evening in the lowlands.  By morning, probably, there
would be a frost, if not a snowfall, on the grass and rye, and an
icy surface over the standing water.  I was glad to perceive a
prospect of comfortable quarters in a house which we were
approaching, and of pleasant company in the guests who were
assembled at the door.


WE stood in front of a good substantial farm-house, of old date in
that wild country.  A sign over the door denoted it to be the White
Mountain Post-Office,--an establishment which distributes letters
and newspapers to perhaps a score of persons, comprising the
population of two or three townships among the hills.  The broad and
weighty antlers of a deer, "a stag of ten," were fastened at the
corner of the house; a fox's bushy tail was nailed beneath them; and
a huge black paw lay on the ground, newly severed and still
bleeding, the trophy of a bear-hunt. Among several persons collected
about the doorsteps, the most remarkable was a sturdy mountaineer,
of six feet two, and corresponding bulk, with a heavy set of
features, such as might be moulded on his own blacksmith's anvil,
but yet indicative of mother wit and rough humor.  As we appeared,
he uplifted a tin trumpet, four or five feet long, and blew a
tremendous blast, either in honor of our arrival or to awaken an
echo from the opposite hill.

Ethan Crawford's guests were of such a motley description as to form
quite a picturesque group, seldom seen together except at some place
like this, at once the pleasure-house of fashionable tourists and
the homely inn of country travellers.  Among the company at the door
were the mineralogist and the owner of the gold operaglass whom we
had encountered in the Notch; two Georgian gentlemen, who had
chilled their Southern blood that morning on the top of Mount
Washington; a physician and his wife from Conway; a trader of
Burlington and an old squire of the Green Mountains; and two young
married couples, all the way from Massachusetts, on the matrimonial
jaunt.  Besides these strangers, the rugged county of Coos, in which
we were, was represented by half a dozen wood-cutters, who had slain
a bear in the forest and smitten off his paw.

I had joined the party, and had a moment's leisure to examine them
before the echo of Ethan's blast returned from the hill. Not one,
but many echoes had caught up the harsh and tuneless sound,
untwisted its complicated threads, and found a thousand aerial
harmonies in one stern trumpet-tone.  It was a distinct yet distant
and dream-like symphony of melodious instruments, as if an airy band
had been hidden on the hillside and made faint music at the summons.
No subsequent trial produced so clear, delicate, and spiritual a
concert as the first.  A field-piece was then discharged from the
top of a neighboring hill, and gave birth to one long reverberation,
which ran round the circle of mountains in an unbroken chain of
sound and rolled away without a separate echo.  After these
experiments, the cold atmosphere drove us all into the house, with
the keenest appetites for supper.

It did one's heart good to see the great fires that were kindled in
the parlor and bar-room, especially the latter, where the fireplace
was built of rough stone, and might have contained the trunk of an
old tree for a backlog.

A man keeps a comfortable hearth when his own forest is at his very
door.  In the parlor, when the evening was fairly set in, we held
our hands before our eyes to shield them from the ruddy glow, and
began a pleasant variety of conversation.  The mineralogist and the
physician talked about the invigorating qualities of the mountain
air, and its excellent effect on Ethan Crawford's father, an old man
of seventy-five, with the unbroken frame of middle life.  The two
brides and the doctor's wife held a whispered discussion, which, by
their frequent titterings and a blush or two, seemed to have
reference to the trials or enjoyments of the matrimonial state.  The
bridegrooms sat together in a corner, rigidly silent, like Quakers
whom the spirit moveth not, being still in the odd predicament of
bashfulness towards their own young wives.  The Green Mountain
squire chose me for his companion, and described the difficulties he
had met with half a century ago in travelling from the Connecticut
River through the Notch to Conway, now a single day's journey,
though it had cost him eighteen.  The Georgians held the album
between them, and favored us with the few specimens of its contents,
which they considered ridiculous enough to be worth hearing.  One
extract met with deserved applause.  It was a "Sonnet to the Snow on
Mount Washington," and had been contributed that very afternoon,
bearing a signature of great distinction in magazines and annuals.
The lines were elegant and full of fancy, but too remote from
familiar sentiment, and cold as their subject, resembling those
curious specimens of crystallized vapor which I observed next day on
the mountain-top. The poet was understood to be the young gentleman
of the gold opera-glass, who heard our laudatory remarks with the
composure of a veteran.

Such was our party, and such their ways of amusement.  But on a
winter evening another set of guests assembled at the hearth where
these summer travellers were now sitting.  I once had it in
contemplation to spend a month hereabouts, in sleighing-time, for
the sake of studying the yeomen of New England, who then elbow each
other through the Notch by hundreds, on their way to Portland.
There could be no better school for such a purpose than Ethan
Crawford's inn.  Let the student go thither in December, sit down
with the teamsters at their meals, share their evening merriment,
and repose with them at night when every bed has its three
occupants, and parlor, bar-room, and kitchen are strewn with
slumberers around the fire.  Then let him rise before daylight,
button his great-coat, muffle up his ears, and stride with the
departing caravan a mile or two, to see how sturdily they make head
against the blast.  A treasure of characteristic traits will repay
all inconveniences, even should a frozen nose be of the number.

The conversation of our party soon became more animated and sincere,
and we recounted some traditions of the Indians, who believed that
the father and mother of their race were saved from a deluge by
ascending the peak of Mount Washington.  The children of that pair
have been overwhelmed, and found no such refuge.  In the mythology
of the savage, these mountains were afterwards considered sacred and
inaccessible, full of unearthly wonders, illuminated at lofty
heights by the blaze of precious stones, and inhabited by deities,
who sometimes shrouded themselves in the snow-storm and came down on
the lower world.  There are few legends more poetical than that of
the "Great Carbuncle" of the White Mountains.  The belief was
communicated to the English settlers, and is hardly yet extinct,
that a gem, of such immense size as to be seen shining miles away,
hangs from a rock over a clear, deep lake, high up among the hills.
They who had once beheld its splendor were enthralled with an
unutterable yearning to possess it.  But a spirit guarded that
inestimable jewel, and bewildered the adventurer with a dark mist
from the enchanted lake.  Thus life was worn away in the vain search
for an unearthly treasure, till at length the deluded one went up
the mountain, still sanguine as in youth, but returned no more.  On
this theme methinks I could frame a tale with a deep moral.

The hearts of the palefaces would not thrill to these superstitions
of the red men, though we spoke of them in the centre of their
haunted region.  The habits and sentiments of that departed people
were too distinct from those of their successors to find much real
sympathy.  It has often been a matter of regret to me that I was
shut out from the most peculiar field of American fiction by an
inability to see any romance, or poetry, or grandeur, or beauty in
the Indian character, at least till such traits were pointed out by
others.  I do abhor an Indian story.  Yet no writer can be more
secure of a permanent place in our literature than the biographer of
the Indian chiefs. His subject, as referring to tribes which have
mostly vanished from the earth, gives him a right to be placed on a
classic shelf, apart from the merits which will sustain him there.

I made inquiries whether, in his researches about these parts, our
mineralogist had found the three "Silver Hills" which an Indian
sachem sold to an Englishman nearly two hundred years ago, and the
treasure of which the posterity of the purchaser have been looking
for ever since.  But the man of science had ransacked every hill
along the Saco, and knew nothing of these prodigious piles of
wealth.  By this time, as usual with men on the eve of great
adventure, we had prolonged our session deep into the night,
considering how early we were to set out on our six miles' ride to
the foot of Mount Washington.  There was now a general breaking up.
I scrutinized the faces of the two bridegrooms, and saw but little
probability of their leaving the bosom of earthly bliss, in the
first week of the honeymoon and at the frosty hour of three, to
climb above the clouds; nor, when I felt how sharp the wind was as
it rushed through a broken pane and eddied between the chinks of my
unplastered chamber, did I anticipate much alacrity on my own part,
though we were to seek for the "Great Carbuncle."


I was inclined to be poetical about the Grand Canal.  In my
imagination De Witt Clinton was an enchanter, who had waved his
magic wand from the Hudson to Lake Erie and united them by a watery
highway, crowded with the commerce of two worlds, till then
inaccessible to each other.  This simple and mighty conception had
conferred inestimable value on spots which Nature seemed to have
thrown carelessly into the great body of the earth, without
foreseeing that they could ever attain importance. I pictured the
surprise of the sleepy Dutchmen when the new river first glittered
by their doors, bringing them hard cash or foreign commodities in
exchange for their hitherto unmarketable produce.  Surely the water
of this canal must be the most fertilizing of all fluids; for it
causes towns, with their masses of brick and stone, their churches
and theatres, their business and hubbub, their luxury and
refinement, their gay dames and polished citizens, to spring up,
till in time the wondrous stream may flow between two continuous
lines of buildings, through one thronged street, from Buffalo to
Albany.  I embarked about thirty miles below Utica, determining to
voyage along the whole extent of the canal at least twice in the
course of the summer.

Behold us, then, fairly afloat, with three horses harnessed to our
vessel, like the steeds of Neptune to a huge scallop-shell in
mythological pictures.  Bound to a distant port, we had neither
chart nor compass, nor cared about the wind, nor felt the heaving of
a billow, nor dreaded shipwreck, however fierce the tempest, in our
adventurous navigation of an interminable mudpuddle; for a mudpuddle
it seemed, and as dark and turbid as if every kennel in the
land paid contribution to it.  With an imperceptible current, it
holds its drowsy way through all the dismal swamps and unimpressive
scenery that could be found between the great lakes and the
sea-coast.  Yet there is variety enough, both on the surface of the
canal and along its banks, to amuse the traveller, if an
overpowering tedium did not deaden his perceptions.

Sometimes we met a black and rusty-looking vessel, laden with
lumber, salt from Syracuse, or Genesee flour, and shaped at both
ends like a square-toed boot, as if it had two sterns, and were
fated always to advance backward.  On its deck would be a square
hut, and a woman seen through the window at her household work, with
a little tribe of children who perhaps had been born in this strange
dwelling and knew no other home.  Thus, while the husband smoked his
pipe at the helm and the eldest son rode one of the horses, on went
the family, travelling hundreds of miles in their own house and
carrying their fireside with them.  The most frequent species of
craft were the "line-boats," which had a cabin at each end, and a
great bulk of barrels, bales, and boxes in the midst, or light
packets like our own decked all over with a row of curtained windows
from stem to stern, and a drowsy face at every one.  Once we
encountered a boat of rude construction, painted all in gloomy
black, and manned by three Indians, who gazed at us in silence and
with a singular fixedness of eye. Perhaps these three alone, among
the ancient possessors of the land, had attempted to derive benefit
from the white mail's mighty projects and float along the current of
his enterprise. Not long after, in the midst of a swamp and beneath
a clouded sky, we overtook a vessel that seemed full of mirth and
sunshine. It contained a little colony of Swiss on their way to
Michigan, clad in garments of strange fashion and gay colors,
scarlet, yellow, and bright blue, singing, laughing, and making
merry in odd tones and a babble of outlandish words.  One pretty
damsel, with a beautiful pair of naked white arms, addressed a
mirthful remark to me.  She spoke in her native tongue, and I
retorted in good English, both of us laughing heartily at each
other's unintelligible wit.  I cannot describe how pleasantly this
incident affected me.  These honest Swiss were all itinerant
community of jest and fun journeying through a gloomy land and among
a dull race of money-getting drudges, meeting none to understand
their mirth, and only one to sympathize with it, yet still retaining
the happy lightness of their own spirit.

Had I been on my feet at the time instead of sailing slowly along in
a dirty canal-boat, I should often have paused to contemplate the
diversified panorama along the banks of the canal.  Sometimes the
scene was a forest, dark, dense, and impervious, breaking away
occasionally and receding from a lonely tract, covered with dismal
black stumps, where, on the verge of the canal, might be seen a
log-cottage and a sallow-faced woman at the window.  Lean and aguish,
she looked like poverty personified, half clothed, half fed, and
dwelling in a desert, while a tide of wealth was sweeping by her
door.  Two or three miles farther would bring us to a lock, where
the slight impediment to navigation had created a little mart of
trade.  Here would be found commodities of all sorts, enumerated in
yellow letters on the window-shutters of a small grocery-store, the
owner of which had set his soul to the gathering of coppers and
small change, buying and selling through the week, and counting his
gains on the blessed Sabbath.  The next scene might be the dwelling-houses
and stores of a thriving village, built of wood or small gray
stones, a church-spire rising in the midst, and generally two
taverns, bearing over their piazzas the pompous titles of "hotel,"
"exchange," "tontine," or "coffee-house."  Passing on, we glide now
into the unquiet heart of an inland city,--of Utica, for instance,--and
find ourselves amid piles of brick, crowded docks and quays,
rich warehouses, and a busy population.  We feel the eager and
hurrying spirit of the place, like a stream and eddy whirling us
along with it.  Through the thickest of the tumult goes the canal,
flowing between lofty rows of buildings and arched bridges of hewn
stone.  Onward, also, go we, till the hum and bustle of struggling
enterprise die away behind us and we are threading an avenue of the
ancient woods again.

This sounds not amiss in description, but was so tiresome in reality
that we were driven to the most childish expedients for amusement.
An English traveller paraded the deck, with a rifle in his walking-stick,
and waged war on squirrels and woodpeckers, sometimes sending
an unsuccessful bullet among flocks of tame ducks and geese which
abound in the dirty water of the canal.  I, also, pelted these
foolish birds with apples, and smiled at the ridiculous earnestness
of their scrambles for the prize while the apple bobbed about like a
thing of life.  Several little accidents afforded us good-natured
diversion.  At the moment of changing horses the tow-rope caught a
Massachusetts farmer by the leg and threw him down in a very
indescribable posture, leaving a purple mark around his sturdy limb.
A new passenger fell flat on his back in attempting to step on deck
as the boat emerged from under a bridge.  Another, in his Sunday
clothes, as good luck would have it, being told to leap aboard from
the bank, forthwith plunged up to his third waistcoat-button in the
canal, and was fished out in a very pitiable plight, not at all
amended by our three rounds of applause.  Anon a Virginia
schoolmaster, too intent on a pocket Virgil to heed the helmsman's
warning, "Bridge! bridge!" was saluted by the said bridge on his
knowledge-box.  I had prostrated myself like a pagan before his
idol, but heard the dull, leaden sound of the contact, and fully
expected to see the treasures of the poor man's cranium scattered
about the deck.  However, as there was no harm done, except a large
bump on the head, and probably a corresponding dent in the bridge,
the rest of us exchanged glances and laughed quietly.  O, bow
pitiless are idle people!

.     .     .     .     .     .     .    .

The table being now lengthened through the cabin and spread for
supper, the next twenty minutes were the pleasantest I had spent on
the canal, the same space at dinner excepted.  At the close of the
meal it had become dusky enough for lamplight.  The rain pattered
unceasingly on the deck, and sometimes came with a sullen rush
against the windows, driven by the wind as it stirred through an
opening of the forest.  The intolerable dulness of the scene
engendered an evil spirit in me.  Perceiving that the Englishman was
taking notes in a memorandum-book, with occasional glances round the
cabin, I presumed that we were all to figure in a future volume of
travels, and amused my ill-humor by falling into the probable vein
of his remarks.  He would hold up an imaginary mirror, wherein our
reflected faces would appear ugly and ridiculous, yet still retain
all undeniable likeness to the originals.  Then, with more sweeping
malice, he would make these caricatures the representatives of great
classes of my countrymen.

He glanced at the Virginia schoolmaster, a Yankee by birth, who, to
recreate himself, was examining a freshman from Schenectady College
in the conjugation of a Greek verb.  Him the Englishman would
portray as the scholar of America, and compare his erudition to a
school-boy's Latin theme made up of scraps ill-selected and worse
put together.  Next the tourist looked at the Massachusetts farmer,
who was delivering a dogmatic harangue on the iniquity of Sunday
mails.  Here was the far-famed yeoman of New England; his religion,
writes the Englishman, is gloom on the Sabbath, long prayers every
morning and eventide, and illiberality at all times; his boasted
information is merely an abstract and compound of newspaper
paragraphs, Congress debates, caucus harangues, and the argument and
judge's charge in his own lawsuits.  The book-monger cast his eye at
a Detroit merchant, and began scribbling faster than ever.  In this
sharp-eyed man, this lean man, of wrinkled brow, we see daring
enterprise and close-fisted avarice combined.  Here is the
worshipper of Mammon at noonday; here is the three times bankrupt,
richer after every ruin; here, in one word, (O wicked Englishman to
say it!) here is the American.  He lifted his eyeglass to inspect a
Western lady, who at once became aware of the glance, reddened, and
retired deeper into the female part of the cabin.  Here was the
pure, modest, sensitive, and shrinking woman of America,--shrinking
when no evil is intended, and sensitive like diseased flesh, that
thrills if you but point at it; and strangely modest, without
confidence in the modesty of other people; and admirably pure, with
such a quick apprehension of all impurity.

In this manner I went all through the cabin, hitting everybody as
hard a lash as I could, and laying the whole blame on the infernal
Englishman.  At length I caught the eyes of my own image in the
looking-glass, where a number of the party were likewise reflected,
and among them the Englishman, who at that moment was intently
observing myself.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .    .

The crimson curtain being let down between the ladies and gentlemen,
the cabin became a bedchamber for twenty persons, who were laid on
shelves one above another.  For a long time our various
incommodities kept us all awake except five or six, who were
accustomed to sleep nightly amid the uproar of their own snoring,
and had little to dread from any other species of disturbance.  It
is a curious fact that these snorers had been the most quiet people
in the boat while awake, and became peace-breakers only when others
cease to be so, breathing tumult out of their repose.  Would it were
possible to affix a wind-instrument to the nose, and thus make
melody of a snore, so that a sleeping lover might serenade his
mistress or a congregation snore a psalm-tune!  Other, though
fainter, sounds than these contributed to my restlessness.  My head
was close to the crimson curtain,--the sexual division of the
boat,--behind which I continually heard whispers and stealthy footsteps;
the noise of a comb laid on the table or a slipper dropped on the
floor; the twang, like a broken harp-string, caused by loosening a
tight belt; the rustling of a gown in its descent; and the unlacing
of a pair of stays.  My ear seemed to have the properties of an eye;
a visible image pestered my fancy in the darkness; the curtain was
withdrawn between me and the Western lady, who yet disrobed herself
without a blush.

Finally all was hushed in that quarter.  Still I was more broad
awake than through the whole preceding day, and felt a feverish
impulse to toss my limbs miles apart and appease the unquietness of
mind by that of matter.  Forgetting that my berth was hardly so wide
as a coffin, I turned suddenly over and fell like an avalanche on
the floor, to the disturbance of the whole community of sleepers.
As there were no bones broken, I blessed the accident and went on
deck.  A lantern was burning at each end of the boat, and one of the
crew was stationed at the bows, keeping watch, as mariners do on the
ocean.  Though the rain had ceased, the sky was all one cloud, and
the darkness so intense that there seemed to be no world except the
little space on which our lanterns glimmered.  Yet it was an
impressive scene.

We were traversing the "long level," a dead flat between Utica and
Syracuse, where the canal has not rise or fall enough to require a
lock for nearly seventy miles.  There can hardly be a more dismal
tract of country.  The forest which covers it, consisting chiefly of
white-cedar, black-ash, and other trees that live in excessive
moisture, is now decayed and death-struck by the partial draining of
the swamp into the great ditch of the canal.  Sometimes, indeed, our
lights were reflected from pools of stagnant water which stretched
far in among the trunks of the trees, beneath dense masses of dark
foliage.  But generally the tall stems and intermingled branches
were naked, and brought into strong relief amid the surrounding
gloom by the whiteness of their decay.  Often we beheld the
prostrate form of some old sylvan giant which had fallen and crushed
down smaller trees under its immense ruin.  In spots where
destruction had been riotous, the lanterns showed perhaps a hundred
trunks, erect, half overthrown, extended along the ground, resting
on their shattered limbs or tossing them desperately into the
darkness, but all of one ashy white, all naked together, in desolate
confusion.  Thus growing out of the night as we drew nigh, and
vanishing as we glided on, based on obscurity, and overhung and
bounded by it, the scene was ghostlike,--the very land of
unsubstantial things, whither dreams might betake themselves when
they quit the slumberer's brain.

My fancy found another emblem.  The wild nature of America had been
driven to this desert-place by the encroachments of civilized man.
And even here, where the savage queen was throned on the ruins of
her empire, did we penetrate, a vulgar and worldly throng, intruding
on her latest solitude.  In other lands decay sits among fallen
palaces; but here her home is in the forests.

Looking ahead, I discerned a distant light, announcing the approach
of another boat, which soon passed us, and proved to be a rusty old
scow,--just such a craft as the "Flying Dutchman" would navigate on
the canal.  Perhaps it was that celebrated personage himself whom I
imperfectly distinguished at the helm in a glazed cap and rough
great-coat, with a pipe in his mouth, leaving the fumes of tobacco a
hundred yards behind.  Shortly after our boatman blew a horn,
sending a long and melancholy note through the forest avenue, as a
signal for some watcher in the wilderness to be ready with a change
of horses.  We had proceeded a mile or two with our fresh team when
the tow-rope got entangled in a fallen branch on the edge of the
canal, and caused a momentary delay, during which I went to examine
the phosphoric light of an old tree a little within the forest.  It
was not the first delusive radiance that I had followed.

The tree lay along the ground, and was wholly converted into a mass
of diseased splendor, which threw a ghastliness around. Being full
of conceits that night, I called it a frigid fire, a funeral light,
illumining decay and death, an emblem of fame that gleams around the
dead man without warming him, or of genius when it owes its
brilliancy to moral rottenness, and was thinking that such ghostlike
torches were just fit to light up this dead forest or to blaze
coldly in tombs, when, starting from my abstraction, I looked up the
canal.  I recollected myself, and discovered the lanterns glimmering
far away.

"Boat ahoy!" shouted I, making a trumpet of my closed fists.

Though the cry must have rung for miles along that hollow passage of
the woods, it produced no effect.  These packet-boats make up for
their snail-like pace by never loitering day nor night, especially
for those who have paid their fare.  Indeed, the captain had an
interest in getting rid of me; for I was his creditor for a

"They are gone, Heaven be praised!" ejaculated I; "for I cannot
possibly overtake them.  Here am I, on the 'long level,' at
midnight, with the comfortable prospect of a walk to Syracuse, where
my baggage will be left.  And now to find a house or shed wherein to
pass the night."  So thinking aloud, I took a flambeau from the old
tree, burning, but consuming not, to light my steps withal, and,
like a jack-o'-the-lantern, set out on my midnight tour.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sketches from Memory (From "Mosses from an Old Manse")" ***

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