SKETCHES FROM MEMORY
From "The Doliver Romance and Other Pieces: Tales and Sketches"
It was a bright forenoon, when I set foot on the beach at
The latter are far the loftiest, and, from the opposite side
of the lake, had displayed a more striking outline. We were now almost at their feet, and could
see only a sandy beach sweeping beneath a woody bank, around the semicircular
The painted lighthouse on a small green island, the wharves and warehouses, with sloops and schooners moored alongside, or at anchor, or spreading their canvas to the wind, and boats rowing from point to point, reminded me of some fishing-town on the sea-coast.
But I had no need of tasting the water to convince myself
I observed not a single sailor in the port. There were men, indeed, in blue jackets and trousers, but not of the true nautical fashion, such as dangle before slopshops; others wore tight pantaloons and coats preponderously long-tailed,--cutting very queer figures at the masthead; and, in short, these fresh-water fellows had about the same analogy to the real "old salt" with his tarpaulin, pea-jacket, and sailor-cloth trousers, as a lake fish to a Newfoundland cod.
Nothing struck me more in
Some were angling in the lake, but had caught only a few perch, which little fishes, without a miracle, would be nothing among so many. A miracle there certainly must have been, and a daily one, for the subsistence of these wandering hordes. The men exhibit a lazy strength and careless merriment, as if they had fed well hitherto, and meant to feed better hereafter; the women strode about, uncovered in the open air, with far plumper waists and brawnier limbs as well as bolder faces, than our shy and slender females; and their progeny, which was innumerable, had the reddest and the roundest cheeks of any children in America.
While we stood at the wharf, the bell of a steamboat gave
two preliminary peals, and she dashed away for
Perhaps there was an emblem in the involuntary contact. There was a pleasant mixture of people in the square of Burlington, such as cannot be seen elsewhere, at one view; merchants from Montreal, British officers from the frontier garrisons, French Canadians, wandering Irish, Scotchmen of a better class, gentlemen of the South on a pleasure tour, country squires on business; and a great throng of Green Mountain boys, with their horse-wagons and ox-teams, true Yankees in aspect, and looking more superlatively so, by contrast with such a variety of foreigners.
The gray but transparent evening rather shaded than obscured
the scene, leaving its stronger features visible, and even improved by the
medium through which I beheld them. The
volume of water is not very great, nor the roar deep enough to be termed grand,
though such praise might have been appropriate before the good people of
How stern a moral may be drawn from the story of poor Sam
Patch! Why do we call him a madman or a
fool, when he has left his memory around the falls of the
Was the leaper of cataracts more mad or foolish than other men who throw away life, or misspend it in pursuit of empty fame, and seldom so triumphantly as he? That which he won is as invaluable as any except the unsought glory, spreading like the rich perfume of richer fruit from various and useful deeds.
Thus musing, wise in theory, but practically as great a fool as Sam, I lifted my eyes and beheld the spires, warehouses, and dwellings of Rochester, half a mile distant on both sides of the river, indistinctly cheerful, with the twinkling of many lights amid the fall of the evening.
The town had sprung up like a mushroom, but no presage of
decay could be drawn from its hasty growth.
Its edifices are of dusky brick, and of stone that will not be grayer in
a hundred years than now; its churches are Gothic; it is impossible to look at
its worn pavements and conceive how lately the forest leaves have been swept
away. The most ancient town in
In short, everybody seemed to be there, and all had something to do, and were doing it with all their might, except a party of drunken recruits for the Western military posts, principally Irish and Scotch, though they wore Uncle Sam's gray jacket and trousers. I noticed one other idle man. He carried a rifle on his shoulder and a powder-horn across his breast, and appeared to stare about him with confused wonder, as if, while he was listening to the wind among the forest boughs, the hum and bustle of an instantaneous city had surrounded him.
The steamboat in which I was passenger for
As the evening was warm, though cloudy and very dark, I stood on deck, watching a scene that would not have attracted a second glance in the daytime, but became picturesque by the magic of strong light and deep shade.
Some wild Irishmen were replenishing our stock of wood, and had kindled a great fire on the bank to illuminate their labors. It was composed of large logs and dry brushwood, heaped together with careless profusion, blazing fiercely, spouting showers of sparks into the darkness, and gleaming wide over Lake Erie,--a beacon for perplexed voyagers leagues from land.
All around and above the furnace, there was total obscurity. No trees or other objects caught and reflected any portion of the brightness, which thus wasted itself in the immense void of night, as if it quivered from the expiring embers of the world, after the final conflagration. But the Irishmen were continually emerging from the dense gloom, passing through the lurid glow, and vanishing into the gloom on the other side. Sometimes a whole figure would be made visible, by the shirtsleeves and light-colored dress; others were but half seen, like imperfect creatures; many flitted, shadow-like, along the skirts of darkness, tempting fancy to a vain pursuit; and often, a face alone was reddened by the fire, and stared strangely distinct, with no traces of a body. In short these wild Irish, distorted and exaggerated by the blaze, now lost in deep shadow, now bursting into sudden splendor, and now struggling between light and darkness, formed a picture which might have been transferred, almost unaltered, to a tale of the supernatural. As they all carried lanterns of wood, and often flung sticks upon the fire, the least imaginative spectator would at once compare them to devils condemned to keep alive the flames of their own torments.