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´╗┐Title: Old Ticonderoga, a Picture of the Past - (From: "The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales")
Author: Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Old Ticonderoga, a Picture of the Past - (From: "The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales")" ***

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                        THE SNOW-IMAGE


                     OTHER TWICE-TOLD TALES

                       OLD TICONDEROGA
                    A PICTURE OF THE PAST


                      Nathaniel Hawthorne

The greatest attraction, in this vicinity, is the famous old fortress of
Ticonderoga, the remains of which are visible from the piazza of the
tavern, on a swell of land that shuts in the prospect of the lake.  Those
celebrated heights, Mount Defiance and Mount Independence, familiar to
all Americans in history, stand too prominent not to be recognized,
though neither of them precisely corresponds to the images excited by
their names.  In truth, the whole scene, except the interior of the
fortress, disappointed me.  Mount Defiance, which one pictures as a
steep, lofty, and rugged hill, of most formidable aspect, frowning down
with the grim visage of a precipice on old Ticonderoga, is merely a long
and wooded ridge; and bore, at some former period, the gentle name of
Sugar Hill.  The brow is certainly difficult to climb, and high enough to
look into every corner of the fortress.  St. Clair's most probable
reason, however, for neglecting to occupy it, was the deficiency of
troops to man the works already constructed, rather than the supposed
inaccessibility of Mount Defiance.  It is singular that the French never
fortified this height, standing, as it does, in the quarter whence they
must have looked for the advance of a British army.

In my first view of the ruins, I was favored with the scientific guidance
of a young lieutenant of engineers, recently from West Point, where he
had gained credit for great military genius.  I saw nothing but confusion
in what chiefly interested him; straight lines and zigzags, defence
within defence, wall opposed to wall, and ditch intersecting ditch;
oblong squares of masonry below the surface of the earth, and huge
mounds, or turf-covered hills of stone, above it.  On one of these
artificial hillocks, a pine-tree has rooted itself, and grown tall and
strong, since the banner-staff was levelled.  But where my unmilitary
glance could trace no regularity, the young lieutenant was perfectly at
home.  He fathomed the meaning of every ditch, and formed an entire plan
of the fortress from its half-obliterated lines.  His description of
Ticonderoga would be as accurate as a geometrical theorem, and as barren
of the poetry that has clustered round its decay.  I viewed Ticonderoga
as a place of ancient strength, in ruins for half a century: where the
flags of three nations had successively waved, and none waved now; where
armies had struggled, so long ago that the bones of the slain were
mouldered; where Peace had found a heritage in the forsaken haunts of
War.  Now the young West-Pointer, with his lectures on ravelins,
counterscarps, angles, and covered ways, made it an affair of brick and
mortar and hewn stone, arranged on certain regular principles, having a
good deal to do with mathematics, but nothing at all with poetry.

I should have been glad of a hoary veteran to totter by my side, and tell
me, perhaps, of the French garrisons and their Indian allies,--of
Abercrombie, Lord Howe, and Amherst,--of Ethan Allen's triumph and St.
Clair's surrender.  The old soldier and the old fortress would be emblems
of each other.  His reminiscences, though vivid as the image of
Ticonderoga in the lake, would harmonize with the gray influence of the
scene.  A survivor of the long-disbanded garrisons, though but a private
soldier, might have mustered his dead chiefs and comrades,--some from
Westminster Abbey, and English churchyards, and battle-fields in
Europe,--others from their graves here in America,--others, not a few,
who lie sleeping round the fortress; he might have mustered them all,
and bid them march through the ruined gateway, turning their old historic
faces on me, as they passed.  Next to such a companion, the best is one's
own fancy.

At another visit I was alone, and, after rambling all over the ramparts,
sat down to rest myself in one of the roofless barracks.  These are old
French structures, and appear to have occupied three sides of a large
area, now overgrown with grass, nettles, and thistles.  The one in which
I sat was long and narrow, as all the rest had been, with peaked gables.
The exterior walls were nearly entire, constructed of gray, flat,
unpicked stones, the aged strength of which promised long to resist the
elements, if no other violence should precipitate their fall.--The roof,
floors, partitions, and the rest of the wood-work had probably been
burnt, except some bars of stanch old oak, which were blackened with
fire, but still remained imbedded into the window-sills and over the
doors.  There were a few particles of plastering near the chimney,
scratched with rude figures, perhaps by a soldier's hand.  A most
luxuriant crop of weeds had sprung up within the edifice, and hid the
scattered fragments of the wall.  Grass and weeds grew in the windows,
and in all the crevices of the stone, climbing, step by step, till a tuft
of yellow flowers was waving on the highest peak of the gable.  Some
spicy herb diffused a pleasant odor through the ruin.  A verdant heap of
vegetation had covered the hearth of the second floor, clustering on the
very spot where the huge logs had mouldered to glowing coals, and
flourished beneath the broad flue, which had so often puffed the smoke
over a circle of French or English soldiers.  I felt that there was no
other token of decay so impressive as that bed of weeds in the place of
the backlog.

Here I sat, with those roofless walls about me, the clear sky over my
head, and the afternoon sunshine falling gently bright through the
window-frames and doorway.  I heard the tinkling of a cow-bell, the
twittering of birds, and the pleasant hum of insects.  Once a gay
butterfly, with four gold-speckled wings, came and fluttered about my
head, then flew up and lighted on the highest tuft of yellow flowers, and
at last took wing across the lake.  Next a bee buzzed through the
sunshine, and found much sweetness among the weeds.  After watching him
till he went off to his distant hive, I closed my eyes on Ticonderoga in
ruins, and cast a dream-like glance over pictures of the past, and scenes
of which this spot had been the theatre.

At first, my fancy saw only the stern hills, lonely lakes, and venerable
woods.  Not a tree, since their seeds were first scattered over the
infant soil, had felt the axe, but had grown up and flourished through
its long generation, had fallen beneath the weight of years, been buried
in green moss, and nourished the roots of others as gigantic.  Hark!  A
light paddle dips into the lake, a birch canoe glides round the point,
and an Indian chief has passed, painted and feather-crested, armed with a
bow of hickory, a stone tomahawk, and flint-headed arrows.  But the
ripple had hardly vanished from the water, when a white flag caught the
breeze, over a castle in the wilderness, with frowning ramparts and a
hundred cannon.  There stood a French chevalier, commandant of the
fortress, paying court to a copper-colored lady, the princess of the
land, and winning her wild love by the arts which had been successful
with Parisian dames.  A war-party of French and Indians were issuing from
the gate to lay waste some village of New England.  Near the fortress
there was a group of dancers.  The merry soldiers footing it with the
swart savage maids; deeper in the wood, some red men were growing frantic
around a keg of the fire-water; and elsewhere a Jesuit preached the faith
of high cathedrals beneath a canopy of forest boughs, and distributed
crucifixes to be worn beside English scalps.

I tried to make a series of pictures from the old French war, when fleets
were on the lake and armies in the woods, and especially of Abercrombie's
disastrous repulse, where thousands of lives were utterly thrown away;
but, being at a loss how to order the battle, I chose an evening scene in
the barracks, after the fortress had surrendered to Sir Jeffrey Amherst.
What an immense fire blazes on that hearth, gleaming on swords, bayonets,
and musket-barrels, and blending with the hue of the scarlet coats till
the whole barrack-room is quivering with ruddy light!  One soldier has
thrown himself down to rest, after a deer-hunt, or perhaps a long run
through the woods with Indians on his trail.  Two stand up to wrestle,
and are on the point of coming to blows.  A fifer plays a shrill
accompaniment to a drummer's song,--a strain of light love and bloody
war, with a chorus thundered forth by twenty voices.  Meantime, a veteran
in the corner is prosing about Dettingen and Fontenoy, and relates
camp-traditions of Marlborough's battles, till his pipe, having been
roguishly charged with gunpowder, makes a terrible explosion under his
nose.  And now they all vanish in a puff of smoke from the chimney.

I merely glanced at the ensuing twenty years, which glided peacefully
over the frontier fortress, till Ethan Allen's shout was heard, summoning
it to surrender "in the name of the great Jehovah and of the Continental
Congress."  Strange allies! thought the British captain.  Next came the
hurried muster of the soldiers of liberty, when the cannon of Burgoyne,
pointing down upon their stronghold from the brow of Mount Defiance,
announced a new conqueror of Ticonderoga.  No virgin fortress, this!
Forth rushed the motley throng from the barracks, one man wearing the
blue and buff of the Union, another the red coat of Britain, a third a
dragoon's jacket, and a fourth a cotton frock; here was a pair of leather
breeches, and striped trousers there; a grenadier's cap on one head, and
a broad-brimmed hat, with a tall feather, on the next; this fellow
shouldering a king's arm, that might throw a bullet to Crown Point, and
his comrade a long fowling-piece, admirable to shoot ducks on the lake.
In the midst of the bustle, when the fortress was all alive with its last
warlike scene, the ringing of a bell on the lake made me suddenly unclose
my eyes, and behold only the gray and weed-grown ruins.  They were as
peaceful in the sun as a warrior's grave.

Hastening to the rampart, I perceived that the signal had been given by
the steamboat Franklin, which landed a passenger from Whitehall at the
tavern, and resumed its progress northward, to reach Canada the next
morning.  A sloop was pursuing the same track; a little skiff had just
crossed the ferry; while a scow, laden with lumber, spread its huge
square sail, and went up the lake.  The whole country was a cultivated
farm.  Within musket-shot of the ramparts lay the neat villa of Mr. Pell,
who, since the Revolution, has become proprietor of a spot for which
France, England, and America have so often struggled.  How forcibly the
lapse of time and change of circumstances came home to my apprehension!
Banner would never wave again, nor cannon roar, nor blood be shed, nor
trumpet stir up a soldier's heart, in this old fort of Ticonderoga.  Tall
trees have grown upon its ramparts, since the last garrison marched out,
to return no more, or only at some dreamer's summons, gliding from the
twilight past to vanish among realities.

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