By Rev. Charles Rockwell
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Willis Gaylord Clark—His Sketch of the Mountains, the Road
to them and Views from them.—Similar Sketches by Tyrone Power, N. P. Willis,
Park Benjamin, Harriet Martineau,
Mrs. Ellett, Dr. Murdoch, Bayard Taylor, And Rev. Dr. Cyler.
SKETCHES BY WILLIS GAYLORD CLARK
You would scarcely think, arrived at Kaatskill Landing, on the Hudson, that, just before you enter the coach which conveys you to the mountain, any extraordinary prospect was about to open upon your vision. True, as when on the water, the great cloud Presence looms afar, yet there is a long level country between it and you; as it is too early in the day to drink I the grandeur of the scene.
As you move along from the landing, by pleasant and quiet waters, and through scenes of pastoral traquillity, you seem to be threading a road which leads through a peaceful and variegated plain. You lose the memory of the highlands and the river in the thought that you are taking a journey into a country as level as the lowliest land in Jersey. Sometimes the mountains, as you turn a point of the road, appear afar; but "are they clouds, or are they not?" By the mass, you shall hardly tell. Meantime, you are a plain-traveller, a quiet man. All at once you are wheeled upon a vernal theatre, some five or six miles in width, at whose extremity the bases of the Kaatskills ‘gin to rise. How impressive the westering sunshine, sifting itself down the mighty ravines and hollows, and tinting the far-off summits with aerial light! How majestic yet soft the gradations from the ponderous grandeur of the formation; up, up to the giddy and delicate shadowings, which dimly veil and sanctify their tops, as "sacristies of nature," where the cedar rocks to the wind, and the screaming eagle snaps his mandibles, as he sweeps a circuit of miles with one full impulse of this glorious wing! Contrasting the roughness of the basis with the printed beauty of the iris-hues and skiey ultimatum, I could not but deem that the bard of "Thanatopsis" had well applied to the Kaatskills those happy lines wherein he apostrophizes the famous heights of Europe:
"Your peaks are beautiful, ye Apennines,
In the soft light of your serenest skies;
From the broad highland region, dark with pines,
Fair as the hills of paradise, ye rise!"
Be not too eager, as you take the first stage of the mountain, to look about you; especially, be not anxious to look afar. Now and then, it is true, as the coach turns, you cannot choose but see a landscape to the south and east, farther off than you ever saw one before, broken up into a thousand vistas; but look you at them with a sleepy, sidelong eye, to the end that you may finally receive from the Platform the full glory of the final view. In the meantime, there is enough directly about you to employ all your eyes, if you had the ocular endowments of an Argus. Huge rocks, that might have been sent from warring Titans, decked with moss, overhung with rugged shrubbery, and cooling the springs that trickle from beneath them, gloom beside the wary; vast chasms, which your coach shall sometimes seem to overhang, yawn on the left; the pine and cedar-scented air comes freely and sweetly from the brown bosom of the woods; until, one high ascent attained, a level for which succeeds, and your smoking horses rest, while, with expanding nostril, you drink in the rarer air a stillness like the peace of Eden (broken only by the whisper of leaves, the faint chant of embowered birds, or the distant notes that come "mellowed and mingling from the vale below"), hangs at the portal of your ear. It is a time to be still, to be contemplative; to hear no voice but your own ejaculations, or those of one will share and heighten your enjoyment, by partaking it in peace, and as one with you, yet alone.
Passing the ravine, where the immortal Rip Van Winkle played his game of nine-pins with the wizards of that neighborhood, and quaffed hug draughts of those bewildering flagons which made him sleep for years, I flung myself impatiently from the "quarter-deck" of the postilion whose place I had shared, and pushed gaily on, determined to pause not until my weary feet stood on the Platform. The road was smooth and good; the air refreshing and pure, beyond description. The lungs play there without an effort; it is a luxury to breathe. How holy was the stillness! Not a sound invaded the solemn air; it was like inhaling the sanctity of the empyrean. The forest tops soon began to stir as with a mighty wind. I looked, and on both sides of the road there were trees whose branches had been broken, as if by the wings of some rushing tempest. It was the havoc of winter snows.
There is a wonderful deception in the approach to the Mountain House, which, when discovered, will strike the traveller with amuzement. At one point of the road the mansion which is to terminate your pilgrimage heaves its white form in view (you have seen it from the river for nearly half a day), it seems not farther than a hundred rods, and hangs apparently on the verge of a stupendous crag over you head, the road turns again, it is out of sight, and the summits, near its locus in quo, are nearly three miles off. The effect is wonderful. The mountain is growing upon you.
Good Readers! Expect me not to describe the indescribable. I feel now, while memory is busy in my brain, calling up that vision to my mind, much as I did when I leaned upon my staff before that omnipotent picture, and looked abroad upon its GOD-written magnitude. It was a vast and changeful, a majestic, and interminable landscape; a fairy, grand, and delicately-colored scene, with rivers for its lines of reflections; with highlands and the vales of States for its shadowings, and far-off mountains for its frame. Those parti-colored and varying clouds I fancied I had seen as I ascended, were but portions of the scene. All colors of the rainbow; all softness of harvest-field, and forest, and distant cities, and the towns that simply dotted the Hudson; and far beyond where that noble river, diminished to a brooklet, rolled its waters, there opened mountain after mountain, vale after vale, State after State, heaved against the horizon, to the north-east and south, in impressive and sublime confusion; while still beyond, in undulating ridges, filled with all hues of light and shade, coquetting with the cloud, rolled the rock-ribbed and ancient frame of this dim diorama! As the sun went down, the houses and cities diminished to dots; the evening guns of the national anniversary came booming up from the valley of the Hudson; the bonfires blazed along the peaks of distant mountains, and from the suburbs of countless villages along the river; while in the dim twilight,
"From coast to coast, and from town to town,
You could see all the white sails gleaming down."
The steamboats, hastening to and fro, vomited their fires upon the air, and the circuit of unnumbered miles sent up its sights and sounds, from the region below, over which the vast shadows of the mountains were stealing.
Just before the sun dropped behind the west, his slant beams poured over the South Mountain and fell upon a wide sea of feathery clouds, which were sweeping midway along its form, obscuring the vale below. I sought an eminence in the neighborhood, and with the sun at my back, saw a giant form depicted in a misty halo on the clouds below. He was identified, insubstantial but extensive Shape! I stretched forth my hand, and the giant spectre waved his shadowy arm over the whole county of Dutchess, through the misty atmosphere; while just at his supernatural coat-tail, a shower of light played upon the highlands, verging toward West Point, on the river, which are to the eye, from the Mountain House, level slips of shore, that seem scarce to gross as knolls of the smallest size.
In discoursing of the territorial wonderments in question, which have been moulded by the hand of the ALMIGHTY, I cannot suppose that you who read my reveries will look with a compact, imaginative eye upon that which has forced its huge radius upon my own extended vision. I ask you, howbeit, to take my arm, and step forth with me from the piazza of the Mountain House. It is night. A few stars are peering from a dim azure field of western sky; the high-soaring breeze, the breath of heaven, makes a stilly music in the neighboring pines; the meek crest of Dian rolls along the blue depths of ether, tinting with silver lines the half dun, half fleecy clouds.
There is a bench near the verge of the Platform where, when you sit at evening, the hollow-sounding air comes up from the vast vale below, like the restless murmurs of the ocean.
Listen to those voiceful currents of air, traversing the vast profound! What a mighty circumference do they sweep! Over how many towns, and dwellings, and streams, and incommunicable woods! Murmurs of the dark sources and awakeners of sublime imagination swell from afar. You have thoughts of eternity and power here which shall haunt you evermore.
You can lie on you pillow at the Kaatskill House, and see the god of day look upon you from behind the pinnacles of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, hundreds of miles away. Noble prospect! As the great orb heaves up in ineffable grandeur, he seems rising from beneath you, and you fancy that you have attained an elevation where may be seen the motion of the world. No intervening land to limit the view, you seem suspended in mid-air, without one obstacle to check the eye. The scene is indescribable. The chequered and interminable vale, sprinkled with groves, and lakes, and towns, and streams; the mountains afar off, swelling tumultuously heavenward, like waves of the ocean, some incarnadined with radiance, others purple in shade; all these, to use the language of an auctioneer’s advertisement, "are too tedious to mention, but may be seen on the premises." I know of but one picture which will give the reader an idea of this ethereal spot. It was the view which the angel Michael was polite enough, one summer morning, to point out to Adam, from the highest hill of Paradise.
"His eye might there command wherever stood
City of old or modern fame, the seat
Of mightiest empire, from the destined walls
Of Cambalu, seat of Cathaian Can,
And Samarchand by Oxus, Temir’s throne,
To Paquine of Sinaean kings; and thence
To Agra and Lahor of Great Mogul
Down to the golden Chersonese; or where
The Persian in Ecbatan sat, or since
In Hispahan; or where the Russian Ksar
In Mosco; or the Sultan in Bizance,
Turchestan-born; nor could his eye not ken
The empire of Negus to his utmost port,
Ercoco; and the lest maritime kings;
Mombaza, and Quiloa, and Meiind,
And Sofala thought Ophir, to the realm
Of Congo, and Angola farthest south;
Or then from Niger flood to Atlas mount,
The kindoms of Almansor, Fez and Sus,
Morocco, and Algiers, and Tremisen;
On Europe thence, and where Rome was to sway
The world; in spirit perhaps he also saw
Rich Mexico, the seat of Montezume,
(And Texas too, great HOUSTON’S seat—who knows?)
And Cusco in Peru, the richer seat
Of Atabalipa; and yet unspoiled
Guiana, whose great city Geryon’s sons
Call El Dorado.
It looks to be a perilous enterprise to descend the Kaatskills. The wheels of the coach are shod with the preparation of iron slippers, which are essential to a holdup; and as you bowl and grate along, with wilderness-chasms and a brawling stream mayhap on one hand, and horrid masses of stone seemingly ready to tumble upon you on the other; the far plain stretching like the sea beneath you, in the mists of the morning; your emotions are fidgetty. You are not afraid—not you, indeed! Catch you at such folly! No; but you wish most devoutly that you were some nine miles down, notwithstanding, and are looking eagerly for the consummation.
We paused just long enough at the base of the mountain to water the cattle and hear a bit of choice grammar from the landlord, a burly, big individual, "careless of the objective case," and studious of ease, in bags of tow-cloth (trowsers by courtesy), and a roundabout of the same material; the knees of the unmentionables apparently greened by kneeling humbly at the lactiferous udder of his only cow, day by day. He addressed "The gentleman that driv’ us down":
"Well, Josh, I seen them rackets!"
"Wa’nt they almighty bright?" was the inquisitive reply.
This short colloquy had reference to a train of fireworks which were set off the evening before at the Mountain House; long, snaky trails of light, flashing in their zigzag course through the darkness. It was beautiful to see those fiery sentences, written fitfully on the sky, fading one by one, like some Hebrew character, some Nebuchadnezzar scroll, in the dark profound, and showing, as the rocket fell and faded, that beneath the lowest deep to which it descended, there was one yet lower still, to which it swept, "plumb-down, a shower of fire."
We presently rolled away, and were soon drawn up in front of the Hudson, at the landing.
"IMPRESSIONS OF AMERICA, DURING 1833-35."
By Tyrone Power, Esq.
A STAGE was in waiting at the landing-place, which quickly took us to town, where we took a carriage directly to the Mountain House, which we had marked from the rover as the morning sun lighted it up, looking like a white dove-cot raised against the dark hill-side.
I will say nothing of our winding, rocky road, or of the glimpses we now and then had of the nether world, which "momentarily grew less," as. whilst halting for breath, we curiously peeped through the leafy screen, flying from the faded leaf and drooping flower of scorching summer, and finding ourselves once more surrounded by all the lovely evidences of early spring. I walked more than half way, and never felt less weary that when I rested on the natural platform, which, thrust from the hill-side, forms a stand whence may be worshipped one of the most glorious prospects ever given by the Creator to man’s admiration.
In the cool shade we stood here, and from this eyry looked upon the silver line drawn through the vast rich valley far below, doubtful of its being the broad Hudson, upon whose bosom we had so lately floated in a huge vessel crowded with passengers; for this vessel we searched in vain; but, by the aid of a telescope, made out one of the same kind, which appeared to flit along like some fairy skiff on a pantomimic lake, made all radiant wit gold and pearl.
How delightful were the sensations attendant upon a first repose in this changed climate, enhanced as these were by the remembrance of the broiling we had so recently endured! I never remember to have risen with feelings more elastic, or in higher spirits, than I did after my first night’s rest upon the mountain.
* * * * * *
A ride of some three miles brought us as close as might be to the spot (the Falls), and a walk of as many hundred yards presented to view a scene as well suited for a witch’s festival as any spot in the old world.
* * * * * *
With two others, I decided upon walking back, and pleasant it is to walk through these quiet wild-wood paths, where the chirps of the birds and the nestle of the leaves alone break in upon the repose. These mountains are everywhere thickly clothed with wood, save only the platform where the house if built; deer abound on the lower ridges, and the bear yet finds ample cover here. A number of these animals are killed every season by an indefatigable old Nimrod who lives in the valley beneath, and who breeds some very fine dogs to this sport.
I did promise unto myself that during the coming November I would return up here, for the purpose of seeing Bruin baited in his proper lair; but regret to say my plan was frustrated. It must be an exciting chase to rouse the lord of this wild mountain forest on a sunny morning, with the first hoar frost yet crisping the feathery pines; and to hear the deep-mouthed hounds giving tongue where an hundred echoes wait to bay the fierce challenge back, and to hear the sharp crack of the rifle rattle through the thin air.
THE CATSKILL MOUNTAINS.
By N. P. Willis.
At this elevation you many wear woollen and sleep under blankets in midsummer; and that is a pleasant temperature where much hard work is to be done in the way of pleasure-hunting. No place so agreeable as Catskill, after one has been parboiled in the city. The cool woods, the small silver lakes, the falls, the mountain-tops, are all delicious haunts for the idler-away of the hot months and, to the credit of our taste, it may be said they are fully improved,--Catskill is a "resort."
From the Mountain House the busy and all-glorious Hudson is seen winding half its silver length,--towns, villas, and white spires, sparkling on the shores, and snowy sails and gaily-painted steamers speckling its bosom. It is a constant diorama of the most lively beauty; and the traveller, as he looks down upon it, sighs to make it a home. Yet a smaller and less-frequented stream would best fulfil desires born of a sigh. There is either no seclusion on the Hudson, or there is so much that the conveniences of life are difficult to obtain. Where the steamers come to shore (twenty a day, with each from one to seven hundred passengers) it is certainly far from secluded enough. No place can be rural, in all the virtues of the phrase, where a steamer will take the villager to the city between noon and night, and bring him back between mid-night and morning. There is a suburban look and character about all the villages on the Hudson which seems out of place among such scenery. They are suburbs, in fact; steam has destroyed the distance between them and the city.
The Mountain House on the Catskill, it should be remarked, is a luxurious hotel. How the proprietor can have dragged up, and keeps dragging up, so many superfluities from the rover level to the eagle’s nest, excites your wonder. It is the more strange, because in climbing a mountain the feeling is natural that you leave such enervating indulgences below.
The mountain-top is too near heaven. It should be a monastery to lodge in so high; a St. Gothard, or a Vallambrosa. But here you may choose between Hermitages, "white" or "red" Burgundias, Madeiras, French dishes, and French dances, as if you had descended upon Capua.
CATSKILL MOUNTAIN HOUSE.
By Park Benjamin
"Tis pleasant, for a while to leave the heated pavements and the garbaged atmosphere of our ever-bustling, noisy city; to bid adieu to the continued rumbling and rattling of all the various vehicles that the worried horses are destined to drag in merciless labor to and fro the city’s length; to shun the charcoal vender’s unearthly guttural; the crises of the newspaper urchins, more varied in tone that the gamut’s self; to flee from patients, clients, patrons, and all the constant, never-varying avocations, that then to harass and perplex the lives of toiling citizens, and perch one’s self upon some mountainous elevation, where nature’s calmness changes the current of our thoughts, and turns them from the real and artificial miseries of humanity. On such a spot we can enjoy an inward elevation, partaking of the beauty and serenity of the scene, and indulge the mind in instructive reflections upon the past, the present, and the future.
It would seem that the great Creator of the universe had built up this mighty eminence that man might know His power, and, felling his own insignificance, despise and shun the vanities and hollow-heartedness of life. Here the belief is taught that there is but one religion and one great family of mankind. Station yourself upon that projecting rock that hangs in such terrific altitude over the immense space beneath, but attempt not to give utterance to your feelings—language could not express them, Have you ever stood upon a vessel’s deck, lashed to her for security, amid the howling tempest’s rage, the winds depriving her into the sea’s deep chasms, and suspending here on the lofty pinnacle of the waves, the lighting’s flashes brightening the surrounding horrors, and showing by its vivid glares the peril of your situation? Have you ever known the mightiness of the tempest’s angry mood at such a moment, and felt how utterly inadequate is speech? If so, then stand upon this high-poised rock and learn that it is not the awfully sublime alone that seals the lips, but that nature in her calmest mood can subdue the mind to silence.
The checkered scene below lies like the loveliest meadow, in variegated patchwork. Hills have disappeared. Here and there, apparently within a narrow lane, a mite is seen. It is the vehicle of some sturdy farmer, drawn by his well-fed span, measuring with rapid pace the broad highway leading to the distant village, whose diminished spires decorate the brook. One bound would carry you to its opposite bank, were it what it seems, and by that bound you to would leap the noble Hudson. See that tiny cloud-smaller than the puff just issuing from you Havana—as it rises from the river’s surface. That speck beneath is speeding on its way with a velocity that gladdens its living freight of anxious travellers, and yet to the eye it moves not. Those far-off mountains, rising from the horizon in varied obscure shapes and heights, belong to other States. The fleeting clouds in graceful movement pass beneath you, dragging their lengthened shadows over that colored plain, until nature’s curtain, being drawn, shuts out the view. And now the whole become one vast fictitious sea, placing you in feeling near the ocean’s level, and relieving for a moment the nervous throbs that dizzy height occasioned. Soon the clouds disperse, and separating in changing forms, the quiet region underneath lies again before you in all its beautiful and glorious sublimity. Such is nature’s tableau. Why was creation formed with features so imposing, but for man’s great benefit, that he might learn the power and majesty of the Omnipotent!
Come, then, ye multitudes of uneducated mortals, and from this great book store you minds with deep reflections, leading to wisdom and to happiness.
FROM "RETROSPECT OF WESTERN TRAVEL."
By Harriet Martineau
However widely European travellers have differed about other things in America, all seem to agree in their love of the Hudson. The pens of all tourists dwell on its scenery, and their affections linger about it like the magic lights which seem to have this river in their peculiar charge. Yet very few travellers have seen its noblest wonder. I may be singular; but I own that I was more moved by what I saw from the Mountain House than by Niagara itself.
What is this Mountain House? this Pine Orchard House? many will ask; for its name is not to be found in most books of American travels. "What is that white speck?" I myself asked, when staying as Tivoli, on the east bank of the Hudson, opposite to the Catskills, whose shadowy surface was perpetually tempting the eye. That white speck, visible to most eyes only when bright sunshine was upon it, was the Mountain House; a hotel built for the accommodation of hardy travellers who may desire to obtain that complete view of the valley of the Hudson which can be had nowhere else. I think I had rather have missed the Hawk’s Nest, the Prairies, the Mississippi, and even Niagara, than this.
The mountain laurel conveyed by association the first impression of coolness. Sheep were browsing among the shrubs, apparently enjoying the shelter of the covert. We scrambled through deep shade for three or four miles, heavy showers passing over us, and gusts of wind bowing the tree-tops, and sending a shiver through us, partly from the sudden chillness, and partly from expectation and awe of the breezy solitude.
After another level reach of road, and another scrambling ascent, I saw something on the rocky platform above our heads, like (to compare great things with small) an illumined fairy palace perched among the clouds in opera scenery; a large building, whose numerous window lights marked out its figure from amid the thunder-clouds and black twilight which overshadowed it. It was now half-past eight o’clock, and a stormy evening. Everything was chill, and we were glad of lights and tea in the first place.
After tea I went out upon the platform in front of the house, having been warned not to go to near the edge, so as to fall an unmeasured depth into the forest below. I sat upon the edge, as a security against stepping over unawares. The stars were bright overhead, and had conquered half the sky, giving promise of what we ardently desired, a fine morrow. Over the other half the mass of thunder-clouds was, I supposed, heaped together, for I could at first discern nothing of the campaign which I knew must be stretched below. Suddenly and from that moment incessantly, gushes of red lightning poured out from the cloudy canopy, reveling not merely the horizon, but the course of the river in all its windings through the valley. This thread of river, thus illuminated, looked like a flash of lightning caught by some strong hand and laid along in the valley. All the principal features of the landscape might, no doubt, have been discerned by this sulphurous light; but my whole attention was absorbed by the river, which seemed to come out of the darkness like an apparition at the summons of my impatient will. It could be borne only for a short time; this dazzling, bewildering alternation of glare and blackness, of vast reality and nothingness. I was soon glad to draw back from the precipice and seek the candle-light within.
The next day was Sunday. I shall never forget, if I live to a hundred, how the world lay at my feet one Sunday morning. I rose very early and looked abroad from my window, two stories above the platform. A dense fog, exactly level with my eyes, as it appeared, roofed in the whole plain of the earth; a dusky firmament, in which the stars had hidden themselves for the day. Such is the account which an antediluvian spectator would probably have given of it. This solid firmament had spaces in it, however, through which gushes of sunlight were poured, lighting up the spires of white churches, and clusters of farm buildings, too small to be otherwise distinguished; and especially the river, with its sloops floating like motes in the sunbeam. The firmament rose and melted, or parted off into the likeness of snowy sky-mountains, and left cool Sabbath to brood brightly over the land. What human interest sanctifies a bird’s-eye view! I suppose this is its peculiar charm, for its charm is found to deepen in proportion to the growth of mind. To an infant, a campaign of a hundred miles is not so much as a yard square of gray carpet. To the rustic it is less bewitching that a paddock with two cows. To the philosopher, what is it not? As he casts his eye over its glittering towns, its scattered hamlets, its secluded homes, its mountain ranges, church spires and untrodden forests, it is a picture of life; and epitome of the human universe; the complete volume of moral philosophy, for which he has sought in vain in all libraries. On the left horizon are the Green Mountains of Vermont, and at the right extremity sparkles the Atlantic. Beneath lies the forest, where the deer are hiding and the birds rejoicing in song. Beyond the river he sees spread the rich plains of Connecticut; there, where a blue expanse lies beyond the triple range of hills, are the churches of religious Massachusetts sending up their Sabbath psalms: praise which he is to high to hear, while God is not. The fields and waters seem to him to-day no more truly property than the skies which shine down upon them; and to think how some below are busying their thoughts this Sabbath day about how they shall hedge in another field, or multiply their flocks on yonder meadows, gives him a taste of the same pity which Jesus felt in this solitude when his followers were contending about which should be the greatest. It seems strange to him how that man should call anything his but the power which is in him, and which can create somewhat more vast and beautiful than all that this horizon incloses. Here he gains the conviction, to be never again shaken, that all that is real is ideal; that the joys and sorrows of men do not spring up out of the ground or fly abroad on the wings of the wind, or come showered down from the sky; that good cannot be hedged in, nor evil barred out; even that light does not reach the spirit through the eye alone, nor wisdom through the medium of sound or silence only. He becomes of one mind with the spiritual Berkeley, that the face of nature itself, the very picture of woods, and streams, and meadows, is a hieroglyphic writing in the spirit itself, of which the retina is no interpreter. The proof is just below him (at least it came under my eye), in the lady (not American) who, after glancing over the landscape, brings her chair into the piazza, and, turning her back to the campaign and her face to the wooden walls of the hotel, begins the study, this Sunday morning, of her lapful of newspapers. What a sermon is thus preached to him at this moment from a very hackneyed text! To him that hath much—that hath the eye, and ear, and wealth of the spirit, shall more be given; even a replenishing of this spiritual life from that which to others is formless and dumb; while from him that hath little, who trusts in that which lies about him rather than in that which lies within him, shall be taken away, by natural decline, the power of perceiving and enjoying what is within his own domain. To him who is already enriched with large divine and human revelations, this scene is, for all its stillness, musical with divine and human speech; while one who has been deafened by the din of worldly affairs can hear nothing in this mountain solitude.
The march of the day over the valley was glorious, and I was grieved to have to leave my window for an expedition a few miles off. However, the expedition was a good preparation for the return to my window. The little nooks of the road, crowded with bilberries, cherries, and alpine plants, and the quiet tarn, studded with golden water-lillies, were a wholesome contrast to the grandeur of what we had left behind us.
On returning, we found dinner awaiting us, and also a party of friends out of Massachusetts, with whom we passed the afternoon, climbing higher and higher among the pines, ferns, and blue berries of the mountain, to get wider and wider view. They told me that I saw Albany, but I was by no means sure of it. This large city lay in the landscape like an ant-hill in a meadow. Long before sunset I was at my window again, watching the gradual lengthening of the shadows and purpling of the landscape. It was more beautiful than the sunrise of this morning, and less so than that of the morrow. Of this last I shall give no description, for I would not weary others with what is most sacred to me. Suffice it that it gave me a vivid idea of the process of creation, from the moment when all was without form and void, to that when light was commanded, and there was light.
When we were departing, a foreign tourist was heard to complain of the high charges! High charges! As if we were to be supplied for nothing on a perch where the wonder is if any but the young ravens get fed! When I considered what a drawback it is in visiting mountain-tops that one is driven down again almost immediately by one’s bodily wants, I was ready to thank the people devoutly for harboring us on any terms, so that we might think out our thoughts, and compose our emotions, and take our fill of that portion of our universal and eternal inheritance.
THE FOURTH AT PINE ORCHARD.
By Mrs. Ellett.
"Have you been at the Catskill Mountain House?" asked a friend, incidentally; "our party is going to-morrow"—and the important question was decided. The morning of the third we set off in the Empire steamer. After dinner we landed at Catskill, at three in the afternoon. Stages were ready to receive the passengers, and bestowing ourselves therein, we turned for the village, crossed a fine wide stream called the Catskill, and entered upon a country enchanting enough to fill with rapture one long unaccustomed to such varieties of scenery. Here were rich valleys sprinkled with cottages and watered by winding streams, whose course could be traced far off the luxuriance of the shrubbery on their bands; there were cultivated fields, and green meadows, and impervious woods; and land now gently undulating, now broken into steep ascents and startling declivities. Occasionally the road wound along a precipice, just steep and high enough to be perilous and pleasant. The vivid green of the foliage everywhere, and the verdure of the meadows, was most refreshing to an eye accustomed of late to the barren wastes of southern pine-lands. Here and there you pass a picturesque dell; one of them is filled with the sound of a distant waterfall, doubtless worth a pilgrimage to see; and frequently you are arrested by the tiny voice of some adventurous rill, flinging itself impetuously down the hill-side, and hastening to its burial in the valley’s depths. The range of mountains now rises high and misty before you; anon you skirt a gloomy and fathomless valley, perfectly dark with verdure. This is the Sleepy Hollow, commemorated by Irving. I looked to see a Rip Van Winkle emerge from its shades. It is said that one of the oldest settlers in the region actually remembers a strange person of that name; doubtless as inveterate sleeper, whose habits suggested a legend. Rolling on with the merciless velocity of stage-coaches, we came to the spot where the steep ascent commences; and here I was fain, with many others, to alight and walk, dreading that in the climbing process No. 1 might chance to fall back on No. 2, No. 2 on No. 3, and so on. However, none but an habitual coward like myself need fear such a catastrophe, as the vehicles are strongly built, and provided each with a pointed bar of iron that would effectually prevent any retrograde motion. The winding road, closely embowered with foliage, is here picturesque in the extreme. Almost every turn brings some new beauty to view, and the woods are white with the blossoms of the mountain laurel, of which our party bore away numerous trophies. The precipice on the right overhangings the road, but the rocks are concealed by a bright mantle of green. The mountain towers into still grander elevation as you ascend it, and is fast darkening with the shadows of evening, though the plain still lies in sunshine. Suddenly a turn places you in sight of the house, which is the termination of your journey. It is seen directly overhead, perched on the very brink of the frowning precipice, like the eagle’s or the lammergeyer’s nest, or some feudal castle on its foe-defying height. This, indeed, it would resemble, were it of gray stone, instead of being built of wood and painted white. Nevertheless, its snowy whiteness contrasts perhaps the more beautifully with the green woods from the bosom of which it seems to rise, and with the mountainous background. The road by which that elevation is gained is very tortuous, so that a considerable space must be passed over before you come to the plateau on which the house stands. The plain lies in an amphitheatre between two mountains. It is called Pine Orchard, because it was formerly covered with a growth of small pines, which are now removed, having been sacrificed to enhance the beauty of the spot, and encourage the growth of clover and grass, that fills the open space between the beds of solid rock. The "Mountain House" is a large and irregular building, having been built in different parts at different times. The more recent portion was erected in 1824. It is spacious enough to accommodate a very large number of guest, having double and triple rows of goodly dormitories, all of a better size, and more comfortably furnished, that the sleeping-rooms usually appropriated to travellers at the fashionable watering-places. The drawing-rooms are spacious; the principal one consisting of three large saloons opening into each other, or rather forming one. The dining-room is large enough for a feudal banqueting hall, its effect being increased by a range of pillars for the whole length down the centre; and these pillars are wreathed with evergreens, while between the numerous windows stand hemlock or cedar trees during the season, quite in baronial taste. As far as I know, this style of embellishment is unique; it is certainly very picturesque.
The evening shadows now stretch over the entire plain, and the quiet of the scene, after the day’s bustle, invites to sweet repose, which the guests are fain to seek, after the good appetites created by the drive of twelve miles, and the fresh mountain air, have been satisfied by the excellent supper provided by Mr. Beach, the enterprising landlord. Here is an almost wasteful profusion of strawberries, and the other fruits of the season, freshly picked by the mountaineers, with cream and butter that does ample justice to the rich pasturage of this region.
In the morning, go to the front, and what a scene presents itself! The "House" stands on the table rock, a few yards from the sheer verge—and elevation of eighteen hundred feet above the apparent plain, and twenty-seven hundred above the level of the river. There is a narrow strip of green just in front, under the long an capacious piazza, beautifully ornamented. With young fir and cedar trees, and a variety of shrubs. Then comes a strip of bare rock, overlooking the awful abyss.
A sea of woods is at your feet, but so far below, that the large hills seem but slight heavings of the green billowy mass; before you lies a vast landscape, stretching far as the eye can take in the picture; a map of earth with its fields, its meadows, its forests, and its villages and cities scattered in the distance; its streams and lakes diminished, like the dwellings of man, into insignificance. Through the midst winds the sweeping river, the mighty Hudson, lessened to a rill; or it might be likened to a riband laid over a ground of green. Still further on are the swelling uplands, and then far along the horizon, mountains piled on mountains, melting into the distance, rising range above range, till the last and loftiest fades into the blue of the sky. Over this magnificent panorama the morning sun pours a misty radiance, half veiling, yet adding to its beauty, and tinting the Hudson with silver. Here and there the bright river is dotted with sails, and sometimes a steamboat could be seen winding its apparently slow way along. The clouds that fling their fitful shadows over the country below are on a level with us dwellers of the air; the golden patches that occupy the higher regions of atmosphere seem but a few feet above us, and we beyond their sphere, standing in mid-air, looking down on so unrivalled a picture, to thank Heaven for the glory and beauty of earth—even the birds seldom soar higher than our feet; the resting-place of the songster, whose flight can no longer be traced from the plain, is still far below us. We seem like the bell immortalized by Schiller:--
"In Heaven’s pavillion hung on high
The neighbors of the rolling thunder,
The limits of the star-world nigh."
After contemplating this gorgeous scene, this still-life of the busy world, till lost in admiration, and listening to the ceaseless but faint roar sent up from the forest, like the chime of the eternal ocean, the next thing you will do will be to take a carriage to the Catskill Falls, distant about three miles. The road is rough, wild and rocky, but beautifully picturesque. The mountains forming the back-ground of this scene are half-covered with shadows from the clouds, which present the appearance of gorges on their sides, and are continually changing their form, and shifting as the breezes blow. They are distinguished by various names, such as Round Top, Indian’s Head, &c. On the road, which is winding, and embowered by close woods, you cross a small mountain stream that soon expands into a perfect gem of a lake, quite embosomed in the circling hills, covered with a growth of straight, giant-like pines, rising range above to the summits, where the tallest stand in relief against the sky. At a distance of more than a quarter of a mile from the Falls, you alight from the carriages, and walk along the romantic road, admiring at every step, or stopping to gather the abundant variety of wild flowers. The beauty of this woodland path buffles all description. It conducts to the Pavilion, situated at the top of the fall, and directly over-hanging the abyss. On the end of the platform you are close upon the water, hastening to precipitate itself over the rock on which you stand, and tumbling into the wildest ravine ever poet dreamed of. The height of this fall is one hundred and eight feet; a second just below is eighty feet, but from the height it seems a mere step the playful stream is taking, to dash itself in rapids a little further on, and then be lost in sight in the thick foliage overgrowing the bottom of the gorge. Three mountains here intersect each other; and the overlapping of there sides conceals the bed of the stream, so buried that a sea of woods alone is visible. You descend by a path in the woods, and by staircases fixed in the "precipitous, black, jagged rocks." The view from different points of the ravine, and the perpendicular wall forming its sides, is both splendid and sublime. When about half-way from the bottom of the first fall, the path turns aside, and enters a spacious cavern, wholly behind the falling sheets. The sides and roof are of solid gray rock, and the roof projects seventy feet, though in some places it is so low that it cannot be passed under without stooping. The path is consequently sheltered, though but a foot in width—a mere shelf on the verge of a precipice, so narrow as to be quite invisible to those without. It is somewhat "on the plan" of that to Termination Rock behind the falling ocean at Niagara, and really gives an idea of that stupendous place, barring the thunders and the world of waters. A fine view in here obtained of the falling sheet, which appears much larger and broader; while the sides of the ravine, and the dense forest seen through the showery curtain, present a scene beautiful beyond description. Having emerged on the other side, you descend quite to the bottom, and cross the chafed stream by stepping on fragments of rock. Here is a noble view; and the quantity of water is suddenly increased by opening a dam above, so that its roar fills the gorge. Again you descend by the steep path, and a succession of stair-cases, fifty feet below the foot of fall second, and cross near small but furious rapid. From the large flat rock here you obtain the finest view of all. It is three hundred and ten feet below the Pavilion. The whole castellated amphitheatre is before you; and a succession of falls, with a wall of foliage and rocks on either side, ascending far upward, so as to shut out all but a narrow strip of blue sky, seen overhead, and just above the top of fall first. Over this opening golden patches of clouds are sailing, and seem almost to rest upon it. Once more the quantity of water is increased; the falls swell to larger volume, and the clouds of sunny spray rise and fill the amphitheatre; then melt away as before, while the fall assumes its former thread-like appearance. The people walking with in the cavern, just visible through the spray, look spectral enough, especially as they seem to have some secret of their own for clinging to the rocky wall, no path being apparent. It would require but little stretch of imagination to suppose them children of the mist, or genii of the waterfall, particularly that light, fragile figure, whose floating white robe contrasts so wildly with the dark mass behind her. What a scene for deeds of romance and heroism! I warrant me many a declaration has been made in that thrilling spot; and would advise any fair lady who would bring a hesitating lover to confession, to lead him hither for the inspiration he needs. Some instances of success on both sides, I could mention; and could relate one or two romantic tales, but they must be postponed to another occasion. Below, for a little way, the eye can follow the stream; and our guide told us that a quarter of a mile further were other small falls. The path is wild and rough along the stream, but would doubtless well reward the exploration. You ascend by the same way, winding through the cavern to the Pavilion, where the American flag, and the reports of a gun or two reverberating among the mountains, somewhat startlingly reminded us of the Fourth; not so keenly, however, as to destroy the enchantment of this "spirit-stirring nook." The second of a bugle in the distant forest restored the poetry of the scene at once, not withstanding the presence of numbers of country people in their holiday attire—shirt-sleeves –the costume of the American peasantry. To add a little incident in character, one of our party hooked up with an umbrella from the bushes a manuscript, illustrating the beauties of the scene in very blank verse.
Returning by the carriages over the same road, the gorgeous still-life view from the table-rock awaited us; the ocean landscape; the distant river silvered by the sunshine; the mountains melting into either.
Visitors at Catskill mountain do not usually give themselves time to see even what they do see to the best advantage. Many of them remain but a single day, paying only a hurried visit to the falls, and neglecting many other scenes almost equal in interest. There are numerous lovely walks in the vicinity, chief among which are those upon the South and North mountain; and the beautiful lake in the immediate neighborhood of the House is said to abound in fish, affording amusement to those fond of the sport, with boats for rowing or sailing parties. There is said also to be an ice-glen some miles distant into the depths of which the sun never penetrates, and where ice may be found deposited by all the winters since creation.
The walk upon North mountain I found particularly interesting. For some distance you follow the winding road, through woods certainly richer than ever grew on such a height before, with a great deal of impervious underwood, embellished with wild flowers. The moss grows here in such abundance as everywhere to attract attention. At the falls it partially covers the rock beside the cavern, and is of the most vivid green. Near the foot of the lake is a mass of rock, twelve or fifteen feet in height, perfectly covered with gray lichen. The boulders on the mountain are almost hidden by the ancient-looking shroud; and the various growths might form a study for the naturalist. Leaving the road for the mountain path, you begin the ascent, and skirt the frowning precipice, where a single false step would be destruction. Far, far below is the same extensive, billowy verdure—the primitive forest. Now you climb a rude staircase of piled stones, than wind through the deep woods, where wanderers would infallibly be lost without a guide, and where the guide himself finds it hard to thread the tangled maze. Several points where a fine view may be seen claim your attention, as now and then you come forth on the rocky verge; but the cry is still "onward," and, like all others of the human race who never weary of pursuing a promised good, you persevere till the actual summit, by toil and trouble, is reached at last. And splendid is the reward! So vast is the height on which you stand, that the "Mountain House," with its lakes, itself appears upon a plain. In clear weather the view is almost boundless, including Albany on one hand, the Highlands on the other; but just then I witnessed a still grander phenomenon, realizing the beauty of Halleck’s lines descriptive of Weehawken:
"Clouds slumbering at his feet, and the clear blue
Of summer’s sky in beauty bending o’er him."
The clouds were not exactly slumbering, but rolling in heavy masses below us, shrouding completely the more distant portions of the landscape, while a thick mist rendered indistinct the scene immediately beneath. I cannot say we were altogether in the enjoyment of "the clear blue summer’s sky," for the top of the mountain just behind us was enveloped in clouds, and only here and there narrow strips of the sky could be discerned; but we were "mickle better aff" then the seeming plain, on which a fierce rain was evidently pouring. Ere long, however, and while storm and darkness yet brooded on the regions below, the mists rolled away from the summit and melted at the presence of the sun, the heavens looked forth blue and clear as ever, and the rain-drops on the trees glanced in the pure sunshine. Then the vapory veil beneath us was rent and rolled back; part of the landscape rejoiced once more in the living light! The sun pierced the dark curtain beyond; it was lifted, and gradually withdrawn; the glancing river and the distant mountains came into bright view once more; and ere long no trace of the storm could be found, save in the dense masses of cloud that mingled with the mountains on the farthest verge of the horizon.
I would not have missed this spectacle, new and surpassingly glorious as it was, for the world. But one even more striking can be seen, I am told, during a sudden thunder-shower. The clouds then fill the lower regions of the atmosphere, and roll dense and dark beneath, like ocean-waves tossed by the blast; the lightning leaps from space to space, and the thunder peals wildly around, while "the dweller in air" sees naught above him but a blue sun-bright sky. The clearing up of a storm seen under these circumstances must be sublime beyond imagination, and well worth a journey to the Mountain House expressly to see.
Some of our party regretted that the house had not been built on the table-rock of North mountain; but the difficulty of access, and the impossibility of coming up with stages, would, in such a case, have limited the number of visitors to a few. The present location is the most eligible in every respect.
After the descent our guide directed us to a rocky foot-path, instead of the winding road to the house. It required some toil and climbing, but well repaired the exertion.
The ascent to the South mountain is equally beautiful. The path leads from the plateau to the left up the steep acclivity, through a wild forest, less tangled, however, than the other, where huge boulders, gray with moss, are piled fantastically around; some poised on a single edge, and looking as if the slightest force would precipitate them downward to crush the woods in their path; some without apparent foundation, resting on points unseen, and presenting shallow but extensive caverns, the probable abode of reptiles, and green with rank moisture. Trees grow on their sides and in the clefts, and you wonder whence their nourishment is derived; they seem, in truth, to partiality for the rugged soil, and frequently send their roots far down the rock to seek the humid earth. The fir, the cedar, and silver pine, so much more beautiful that the southern pine, abound here, with a vast variety of deciduous trees. The innumerable crevices are filled with green moss. The ascent becomes yet more steep, and presently you enter a narrow rift, from which the party, one by one, emerge above, and seems if ascending out of the earth. The shadow of the overhanging cliffs renders this spot ever cool and fresh, even in the hottest part of the summer-day. On the summit are three points usually visited by travelers, from which a gorgeous view may be obtained. On one the huge fragment of rock is, to all appearance, entirely separated from the mountain; it is really, however, fast united below, or it would, long ere this, have plunged from its place into the abyss. I must not forget to mention that there is a plateau on both these mountains, covered with short pines, which has obtained the name of Pine Orchard. The pioneer who erected the first building on the mountain pointed out to us the spot where he slept, wrapt in his greatcoat, under a rocky shelter, the first night he passed in this neighborhood.
From the third and highest point the view is the best. Here, besides the dark ridge of forest and the ocean landscape, a new range of mountains can be discerned far southward, and several towns on the Hudson.
There is a beautiful drive in the vicinity, enjoyed by few among the visitors to the Mountain House, which, however, should be neglected by none. It is on what is called the Clove road, leading through a cleft in the mountain southward. Descending by the traveled road three or four miles, passing the weird valley of Sleepy Hollow, where, in the dreamy nook, under the towering mountains, you will find the picture of old Rip at his waking, hung up as a sign to a rude-looking house of refreshments; and pursuing the road a little beyond the toll-gate, you turn aside to the right and follow the road along the foot of the precipice on which the house stands. Ere long you turn again to the right, and presently find yourself in a mountain defile, where surprise and delight at the wondrous scene accompany you on every step onward. The mountains rise abruptly on either side almost to the clouds; the primeval forest is around you; and the depth of the gorge, which is sometimes narrow and cavernous, is filled by a brawling mountain stream, the same Cauterskill that takes the leap down the falls above. For two or three miles this scene of beauty and grandeur, varying every moment, meets your eye; now the stream runs over its bed of rocks, now dashes wildly in rapids, now runs smoothly for a space; while the road winds on its verge, sometimes far above it, sometimes descending nearly to its level. After passing through the cleft you ascend the mountain and return to the house, having made a circuit of twelve miles.
To those who have leisure for enjoyment of country air and scenery, and for exploring the wild and numerous beauties of this region, I would recommend a residence of weeks at Pine Orchard. The mountain is fresh and invigorating, and always cool in the sultriest season. The rapid succession of visitors, presenting new faces every day, is rather an objection to those who have a taste for the society of watering-places, but I see no reason why the Catskill Mountain House should not, when its resources are better known, be a place of fashionable resort, during all the hot season, for the summer travelers.
E. F. E.
A SKETCH BY REV. DR. MURDOCK
We arrived at "the House" in a most unfavorable time for seeing anything, and were strongly tempted to return immediately. It was just that kind of sky which below gives the "blues." The dreary, dense mist that enveloped the entire range, was mournful; and, as the wind blew from the north-east, there was no prospect of the sky being cleared till the Newfoundland banks had exchanged these vapory sheets of a robe of sunshine. The cloud was as damp as clouds are anywhere that I have known. I have heard of Lapland fogs, and had felt Scotch mists, but this was equal to any of these for its penetrating quality. Starch and gum shrank into mournful, skin-like flaccidity; and to use the inelegant expression of a fellow-visitor, whose sobriquet was "TOM," "Kate’s ringlets were no more like seraphs’ locks than Old Bay’s tail. "
It was in vain that we fled from the outside of the house to the inside, as the cloud went with the air, and a perfect vacuum was impossible. Chairs, tables, mantel-pieces, stood in dewy beads; and even the beds had the sticky touch you feel at the "Ocean House" after two days stormy weather. Though there was a constant fire kept up in the parlor, it did not to us, the "new arrived," exhibit that bliss which a kindled hearth presents to the youthful imagination anticipating the marriage-day.
A lugubrious-looking man here stepped up, and with the most rueful-looking countenance declared, "This was awful! I came here," he said, "a week ago, all the way from Cape Cod, for the sole object of getting a look, and here I have seen nothing; and to be laughed at in the bargain." "I shall not go back," said "Tom," "without my story. I have seen something worth telling." "And pray what shall you tell them that you saw?" said the sad man, "except across the dinner-table; and scarcely that far, if I may guess from your good judgement on cookery." "Why," said "Tom," with perfect nonchalance, "I shall tell them I have seen the greatest fog that I have ever seen in my life!" "And, my dear sir," said the gentlemen with the book, "you can now preach from that text, ‘All baptized in the cloud.’" "Or that other one," said the lady, "being compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses."
Now, thought I, there may be more in the darkness than was
dreamed of in my first philosophy. I will remain, and perhaps I may catch some
of the inspiration from this happy family. But I was disturbed in my cogitations
by a buzz among the guest near the door, and all I could hear was that the house
"going past on the outside." A waiter was quieting an old lady by telling her that all was quite firm at the foundations, for it was built on a rock.
We were all on the piazza in a few moments, and there, sure enough, was the perfect mage of the vast building, plainly impressed upon a thicker cloud that the general envelope that had covered us. It was a great mass of vapor, moving from north to south, directly in front, and only about two hundred feet from us. Which reflected the light of the sun, now beginning to appear in the west, from its bosom, like a mirror, in which the noble Corinthian pillars, which form the front of the building, were expanded like some place built by the Titans for the entertainment of their antediluvian guest. I had read of Catherine of Russia’s famous palace of ice, all glittering with the gorgeousness that now beautifies the Kremlin; and how frequently that is produced, as emblematic of human glory; but here was something that more than recalled my early impressions of Aladdin’s lamp, or of the magician’s wand.
The visionary illusion was moving with the cloud, and ere long we saw one pillar disappear, then another. We, ourselves, who were expanded to Brobdignags in size, saw the gulf into which we were to enter and be lost. I almost shivered when my turn came, but there was no eluding my fate; one side of my face was veiled, and in a few moments the whole had passed like a dream. An instant before, and we were the inhabitants of a "gorgeous palace," but it was the "baseless fabric of a vision," and now there was left "not a wreck behind."
After tea, and the lamps lit, the different sets were seen discussing the events of that day; and it would fill a book to report the half of the really interesting conversations that were held. The book man was lecturing upon optics and showing "Kate" how the laws of light were to be understood, on reflection and refraction; and how these effects were produced this afternoon by the rays striking a certain angle of incidence; all of which was Greek to me.
"Uncle," said "Kate," "tell us what you were thinking of during that wonderful vision." "Oh, yes," said the mother, "you have traveled, brother, in the old world, and can enlighten us." "My story has a moral to it," said the clergyman, for I found he was one. "The mysteriously grand temple we have beheld in the cloud has brought to my mind the fleeting nature of all earthly temples. When I first saw the Parthenon at Athens, looking out on the AEgean Sea from the highest point of the Acropolis, I said there is man’s finest workmanship passing, after it has stood two thousand years. Again, I saw on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, how the proud Scotchmen attempted to imitate their ancient models, and failed. Their Parthenon is already like a ruin. And here, on a higher eminence still, stands a building that, at a distance, rivals both in appearance, till you come near and find that it is but wood, and shall pass away sooner than either of those I have referred to. But to-day, as if in mockery of all earthly greatness, we have seen an airy Parthenon passing by us like a dream. Truly.
" ‘This world is all a fleeting show,
For man’s illusion given.’"
There was nothing to be seen next day, and the greater part was spent in hope of conjuring up something before it was done. About three o’clock I heard the cry of "A rainbow! A rainbow!" and on looking down towards the river I perceived that the right limb of a large bow was already formed. It gradually took its proper shape, until its colors came all out in their completeness. The shower was falling on the river, and supposing that to be the cord, the extent must have been twenty miles in length, with a span in proportion. It was such a token as Noah saw from Ararat, rising on the plain of Shinar.
It was interesting to listen to the remarks of the spectators—moralizing, poetizing, and philosophizing. A young wife and mother stood next to me, wrapt in admiration, and asked of her material husband if he did not think "that would make a noble gateway for the ’house made without hands,’ that we saw yesterday?" "Umph!" said the careful father, "pick up your raisins there, you little fool. What is that you said, my dear, about gate-posts?" "Oh, see," said the really enraptured wife, "what a gem is there, See! See! the sun is tinting that cloud with gold, till it looks like a throne in the heavens." The deep solemn voice of the grave man repeating in an undertone, "And there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And the city had twelve gates, and every several gate was one pearl." "Tom" was not behind the rest with his word. The idea of that being an entrance to the palace of yesterday caught his fancy, and he was repeating, with variations,
"Still seem as in my infant days,
A glorious gateway given,
For happy spirits to alight,
Between the earth and heaven."
The shower passed to the eastward, and the great bow fell flat upon the black surface, and did appear like a fallen arch, the remnant of departed glory.
I must take for granted that the ride to the falls and the general features of the region are known; but this day was remarkable for new objects of interest to me.
Standing on the south-west point, after going round below the cascade, I became drenched and almost suffocated with the stream, which rose through the air so thick that I could not see across the boiling caldron, and was glad to stand still and take breath. So much rain had fallen for a week, the torrent was greater than I had ever seen it before. It seemed that I was standing within the crater of a volcano, deep and fearful. After steadying my feet and my head, my eyes caught the iris of a rainbow of uncommon brilliancy. At first I was inclined to believe myself under some visual delusion, and that in my eagerness to retain the image of what I had already seen that day, this was but the spectrum of that other rainbow. But as I looked up I saw the sun reflected from millions of prisms, hung on every trees and blade of grass around. And from the point where I stood, round to the opposite side of the gulf, there was one solid mass of variegated glory. It seemed to be one jewel, upon which I might have walked with ease. After the first surprise, I discovered that I stood within the rays of this brightness. Was it presentation in me to feel enraptured, with the bow of promise around my head, and the rock of ages beneath my feet? Blessed emblem of hope and immortality!
The sun had now gained the full ascendancy in the heavens, and his setting gave us the hope of a bright morning, and we retired to rest to-night, congratulating ourselves on the wonderful things we had seen this day.
In the dark of the morning I heard gentle feet going through the long passages, and, afraid of being late, I hastened to the east side of the house, where the greater part of the guest were before me; and after looking at the sky, and then at the spectators, I thought of the Psalmist’s words, "I wait for thee, as they that wait for the eyelids of the morning."
Except a few scattered clouds the dawn was purer than the crystal, for it was unassociated with any material thing. It brought all the beautiful things of this world to remembrance. An infant’s eyes opening for the first time on a world of sin. The cactus in full flower, with its purple and azure mingling.
Two small clouds, half way up the sky, towards the north-east, caught the earliest tints of glory; then, higher up, another became so white that it was at last painful to look at. In my eagerness to see all and catch the first glance of the sun himself, my eyes were dazzled so that I was almost blinded. It was therefore a great relief to hear a voice cry out from one of the windows, Look below! look below!
And we all looked, but the whole scene was unutterably grand. The sea! the sea! many voices said at once. From the verge of the cliff, as far as the eye could reach, it was rolling vapor; the waves rose and fell in hills and deep valleys, coming on like the tide and retiring; and I caught myself involuntarily listening for the dash of the surge. But the silence was alarming. The sea so measureless; so disturbed to the eye; so near, and yet so speechless to the ear. it was not a dead sea, for it moved; but it was the movement of oblivion. How melancholy to think on the thousands of buried homes, wrapt in that cold cheerless sheet; and we up here, basking in the beams of heaven’s own brightness.
The two clouds nearest the east had become solid gold, we thought nothing could be brighter, till a moment after the king himself appeared. It was as if the helmet of a conqueror had risen on the top of a hill; but there he was himself, unexcelled. His actual presence produced a sudden tremor, and tears gushed plentifully at the sight.
We had now time to look beneath, and already there was an evident movement, as if some great commotion was taking place beneath, at the centre. But it was the sun now making himself felt, like the Spirit of God moving on the face of chaos, when he said, "Let there be light, and there was light." We were waiting for the "dry land" to appear.
The vapory mass began to move more rapidly, and assume every fantastic shape that the imagination gave it.
Monstrous giants rose, ruled, and departed like the despots of antiquity. Ossian, before his blindness, must have beheld the like, ere he described Fingal’s combat with the misty demon. And so did Milton, doubtless, while "holy light" entered his early eye; when from the "alpine heights" he saw the celestial and infernal armies, as here, deploying, than closing, then recoiling in terrific fury.
"Uncle," said the sensitive girl, "tell me what you see there." "Oh, child, child, I see, I see what is unspeakable. There is Tophet sending forth its smoke; look at that yawning gulf, was ever anything so capacious; and there beyond in Mount Sinai in awful hidden darkness." "Yes, brother," said the mother, "but look up higher, and tell me what you think of those clouds that have become separated from the rest, and that are now already tinged with heaven’s gold." "Oh, it was in such a chariot as that my Master ascended, when a cloud received Him out of their sight;" and the solemn man wept like a child. In about an hour from sunrise the several fleeces had been lifted up from the earth, till the hills with which I was familiar became apparent, but still huge and awful. And there the river ran dark, in the mist, like the mysterious Styx of the region of Pluto; and as the clouds passed over it they seemed to be fleets of departed nations who were there navigating their shadowy banks, joyless and hopeless. What a contrast between that gloomy region and the rich panorama that is spread out here at noon. Then that river reminds one of the "river of life, clear as crystal," and of that world, when the veil of mystery will be removed, and we shall look no more through a glass darkly.
TRAVELS AT HOME.
By Bayard Taylor.
I have been so often asked, "Where are you going to next?" and have so often answered, "I am going to travel at home," that what was at first intended for a joke, has naturally resolved itself into a reality. The genuine traveler has a chronic dislike of railways, and if he be in addition a lecturer, who is obliged to sit in a cramped position and breathe bad air for five months of the year, he is the less likely to prolong his winter tortures through the summer. Hence, it is scarcely a wonder that, although I have seen so much of our country, I have traveled so little in it. I knew the Himalayas before I had seen the Green Mountains, the Cataracts of the Nile before the Niagara, and the Libyan Desert before the Illinois prairies. I have never yet (let me make the disgraceful confession at the outset) beheld the White Mountains, or Quebec, or the Saguenay, of Lake George, or Trenton Falls!
In all probability I should now be at home, enjoying summer indolence under the shade of my oaks, were it not for the visit of some European friends, who have come over to see the land which all their kindness could not make their friend forget. The latter, in fact, possesses a fair share of the national sensitiveness, and defended his country with so much zeal and magnificent assertions, that his present visitors were not a little curious to see whether their own impressions would correspond with his pictures. He, on the other hand, being anxious to maintain his own as well as his country’s credit, offered his services as guide and showman to our mountains, rivers, lakes and cataracts; and this is how he (I, you understand) came to start upon the present journey. On the whole, I think it a good plan not to see all your own country until after you have seen other lands. It is easy to say, with the school-girls, "I adore Nature!"—but he who adores never criticises. "What a beautiful view!" everyone may cry; "Why is it beautiful?" would puzzle many to answer. Long study, careful observation, and various standards of comparison are necessary—as much so as in art—to enable one to pronounce upon the relative excellence of scenery. I shall have, on this tour, the assistance of a pair of experienced, appreciative foreign eyes, in addition to my own, and you many therefore rely upon my giving you a tolerably impartial report upon American life and landscapes.
When one has a point to carry, the beginning is everything. I therefore embarked with my friends on a North River day-boat, at the Harrison street pier. The calliope, or steam-organ attached to the machine, was playing "Jordan’s a hard road to travel." with astonishing shrillness and power. "There’s an American invention!" I exclaimed, in triumph; "the waste steam, instead of being blown off, is turned into an immense hand-organ, and made to grind out this delightful music."
Several years has passed since I had seen the Hudson from the deck of a steamer. I found great changes, and for the better. The elegant summer residence of New Yorkers, peeping our from groves nestled in warm dells, or, most usually, crowing the highest points of the hills, now extend more than half-way to Albany.
The trees have been judiciously spared, straggling woods carved into shape, stony slopes converted into turf, and, in fact, the long landscape of the eastern bank gardened into more perfect beauty. Those Gothic, Tuscan, and Norman villas, with their air of comfort and home, give an attractive, human sentiment to the scenery; and I would not exchange them for the castles of the Rhine.
The Highlands, of course, impressed my friends as much as I could have wished. It is customary among our tourists to deplore the absence of ruins on those heights—a very unnecessary regret, in my opinion. To show that we have associations fully as inspiring as those connected with feudal warfare, I related the story of Stony Point, and Andre’s capture; and pointed out, successively, Kosciusko’s Monument, old Fort Putnam, and Washington’s Headquarters. Sunnyside was also a classic spot to my friends, nor was Idlewild forgotten.
In due time we reached Catskill, and made all haste to get off for the Mountain House. There are few summits so easy of access—certainly no other mountain resort in our country where the facilities of getting up and down are so complete and satisfactory. The journey would be tame, however, were it not for the superb view of the mountains, rising higher and putting on a deeper blue, with every mile of approach.
On reaching the foot of the mountain, the character of the scenery entirely changes. The trees in Rip Van Winkle’s dell are large and luxuriant-leaved, while the backward views, enframed with foliage and softly painted by the blue pencil of the air, grow more charming as you ascend. Ere long the shadow of the towering North Mountain was flung over us, as we walked up in advance of the laboring horses. The road was bathed in sylvan coolness; the noise of an invisible stream beguiled the steepness of the way; emerald ferns sprang from the rocks, and the red blossoms of the showy rubus and the pale blush of the laurel brightened the gloom of the undergrowth. It is fortunate that the wood has not been cut away, and but rare glimpses of the scenes below are allowed to the traveler. Landing in the rear of the Mountain House, the huge white mass of which completely shuts out the view, thirty paces bring you to the brink of the rock, and you hang suspended, as if by magic, over the world.
It was a quarter of an hour before sunset—perhaps the best moment of the day for the Catskill panorama. The shadows of the mountain-tops reached nearly the Hudson , while the sun, shining directly down the Clove, interposed a thin wedge of golden lustre between. The farm-houses on a thousand hills beyond the river sparkled in the glow, and the Berkshire mountains swam in the luminous, rosy mist. The shadows strode eastward at the rate of a league a minute as we gazed; the forest darkened, the wheat-fields became brown, and the houses glimmered like extinguished stars. Then the cold north wind blew, roaring in the pines, the last lurid purple faded away from the distant hills, and in half an hour the world below was as dark, and strange, and spectral, as if it were an unknown planet we were passing on our journey through space.
The scene from Catskill is unlike any other mountain view that I know. It is imposing through the very simplicity of its features. A line drawn from north to south through the sphere of vision divides it into two equal parts. The western half is mountain, falling off in a line of rock parpet; the eastern is a vast semicircle of blue landscape, half a mile lower. Owing to the abrupt rise of the mountain, the nearest farms at the base seem to be almost under one’s foot; and the country, as far as the Hudson, presents almost the same appearance as if seen from a balloon. Its undulations have vanished; it is as flat as a pancake; and even the bold line of hills stretching toward Saugerties, can only be distinguished by the color of the forest upon them. Beyond the river, although the markings of the hills are lost, the rapid rise of the country from the water-level is very distinctly seen; the whole region appears to be lifted on a sloping plane, so as to expose the greatest possible surface to the eye. On the horizon the Hudson Highlands, the Berkshire and Green mountains unite their chains, forming a continuous line of misty blue.
At noonday, under a cloudless sky, the picture is rather monotonous. After the eye is accustomed to its grand aerial depth, one seeks relief in spying out the characteristics of the separate farms, or in watching specks (of the size of fleas) crawling along the highways. Yonder man and horse, going up and down between the rows of corn, resemble a little black bug on a bit of striped calico. When the sky is full of moving clouds, however, nothing can be more beautiful than the shifting masses of light and shade, traversing such an immense field. There are, also, brief moments when the sun or moon is reflected in the Hudson; when rainbows bend slantingly beneath you, striking bars of seven-hued flame across the landscape; when, even, the thunders march below, and the fountains of the rain are under your feet.
What most impressed my friends was the originality of the view. Familiar with the best mountain scenery of Europe, they could find nothing with which to compare it. As my movements during this journey are guided entirely by their wishes, I was glad when they said, "Let us stay here ‘another day.’"
We have front rooms at the Mountain House; have you ever had one? Through the white, Corinthian pillars of the portico—pillars, which, I must say, are very well proportioned—you get much the same effects as through those of the Propylaea of the Athenian Acropolis. You can open your window, breathing the delicious mountain air in sleep (under a blanket), and, without lifting your head from the pillow, see the sun come up a hundred miles away.
Those, I find, who visit Catskill, come again. This is my fourth ascent, and I trust it is far from being my last. More to-morrow.
At the foot of the Catskill Mountain, the laurel showed its dark-red seed vessels; half-way up, the last faded blossoms were dropping off; but, as we approached the top, the dense thickets were covered with a glory of blossoms. Far and near, in the caverns of shade under the pines and oaks and maples, flashed whole mounds of flowers, white and blush-color, dotted with the vivid pink of the crimped buds. The finest cape azaleas and ericas are scarcely more beautiful than our laurel. Between those mounds bloomed the flame-colored lily, scarcely to be distinguished, at a little distance, from the beast of an oriole. The forest scenery was a curious amalgamation of Norway and the tropics. "What a land, what a climate," exclaimed one of my friends, " that can support such inconsistencies!" "After this," I replied, "it will perhaps be easier for you to comprehend the apparent inconsistencies, the opposing elements, which you will find in the American character."
The next morning we walked to the Katterskill Falls. Since my last visit (in 1851), a handsome hotel—the Laurel House—had been erected here by Mr. Schutt. The road into the Clove has also been improved, and the guests at the Mountain House make frequent excursions into the wild heart of the Catskill region, especially to Stony Clove, fourteen miles distant, at the foot of the blue mountain which faces you as you look down the Katerskill glen. The falls are very lovely (I think that is the proper word)—they will bear seeing many times—but don’t believe those who tell you that they surpass Niagara. Some people have a habit of pronouncing every last view they see " the finest thing in the world!"
The damming up of the water, so much deprecated by the romantic, strikes me as an admirable arrangement. When the dam is full the stream overruns it, and you have as much water as if there were no dam. Then, as you stand at the head of the lower fall, watching the slender scarf of silver fluttering sown the black gulf, comes a sudden, dazzling rush from the summit; the fall leaps away, from the half-way ledge where it lingered, bursting in rockets and shooting stars of spray on the rocks, and you have the full effect of the stream when swollen by spring thaws. Really, this temporary increase of volume is the finest feature of the fall.
No visitor to Catskill should neglect a visit to the North and South mountains. the views from these points, although almost identical with that from the House, have yet different foregrounds, and embrace additional segments of the horizon. The North Peak, I fancy, must have been in Bryant’s mind when he wrote his poem of "The Hunter." Those beautiful features, which hovered before the hunter’s eyes, in the blue gulf of air, as he dreamed on the rock, are they not those of the same maiden who, rising from the still stream, enticed Goethe’s "Fisher" into its waves?—the poetic embodiment of that fascination which lurks in height and depth? Opposite the North Rock there is a weather-beaten pine, which, springing from the mountain-side below, lifts its head just to the level of the rock, and not more than twelve feet in front of it. I never see it without feeling a keen desire to spring from the rock and lodge in its top. The Hanlon Brothers or Blondin, I presume, would not have the least objection to perform such a feat.
In certain conditions of the atmosphere the air between you and the lower world seems to become a visible fluid, an ocean of pale, crystalline blue, at the bottom of which the landscape lies. Peering down into its depths, you at last experience a numbness of the senses, a delicious wandering of the imagination, such as follows the fifth pipe of opium. Or, in the words of Walt Whitman, you "loaf, and invite your soul."
The guests we found at the Mountain House were rather a quiet company. Several entire families were quartered there for the season, but it was perhaps too early for the evening hops and sunrise flirtations which I noticed ten years ago. Parties formed and strolled off quietly into the woods; elderly gentlemen sank into armchairs on the rocks, and watched the steamers on the Hudson.; nurses pulled venturous children away from the precipice, and young gentlemen from afar sat on the verandah and wrote in their note-books. You would not have guessed the number of guests if you had not seen them at the table. I found this quiet, this nonchalance, this "take care of yourself and let other people alone" characteristic very agreeable, and the difference, in this respect, since my last visit, leads me to hope that there has been a general improvement (which was highly needed) in the public manners of the Americans.
A SABBATH ON THE CATSKILLS.
By Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, D. D.
Yesterday was a golden Sabbath. With a chastened warmth the sun-rays fell through the crystal air—and air so pure that the slightest sound from cawing crow or whistling robin in the pines beneath us, came up to our ears distinctly.
"Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
Bridal of earth and sky."
By five o’clock we were out upon the ledge in front of the hotel, for you must remember that the Mountain House is hung, like an eagle’s nest, right on the verge of the precipice. As we came out to the table-rock, the sun was just coming u p to the horizon. Aurora, with rosy finger, was opening the portals of the east. A long, fleecy cloud, whose lower surface was dyed with crimson, which faded into pink and then into a pearl-white, lay motionless in the glowing air. Between the Hudson and the far-away hills of Berkshire were heaped up banks of vapor which parted at the coming of the king of the day—like cohorts parting right and left to receive an advancing sovereign. Detachments of mist were floating out from the entrance of the "Clove" and moving off toward the silver Hudson. Presently the river began to turn to paly gold. Then brighter. Then redder. Then it burned into a molten mirror of crimson, for the sun had already passed up from the horizon and veiled his glorious face behind the mantling cloud. So screened was his brightness from the eye, that we could look down undazzled upon the gorgeous panorama of the veil beneath. Far off toward the south, smoked the Highlands with their morning incense. Nearer lay the winding of the river before Hyde Park. Saugerties, with its white church-spires, was at our feet. A patch of green no larger than a man’s hand, on the opposite side of the river from Catskill, marked the spot on which the painter Church is gathering materials for his nest. The cottage (Mrs. Cole’s) in which, with his new-found mate, he is now waiting for the season of nidification, is also distinctly in view. Across the field from the cottage stands the studio of Cole, from which came forth the unfinished "Cross and the World." Beyond this haunt of genius lies the bay of Hudson, golden in the sunlight, then the spires of Hudson City, then verdant farms and forest, and in the dim, mist-covered background swell upward the Green Mountains of Vermont.
A half-dozen of our fellow-lodgers, who, like ourselves, wished to begin the day’s worship early, were standing beside us on the rocks, wrapped in cloaks and shawls. There was a dim resemblance in the scene to a sunrise on the Righi. But alas! no glaciers, no sky-piercing pinnacle of ice, was in sight. No sublimity, either, was there in our spectacle; but there was beauty infinite, beauty beyond aught that we have seen from mountain-top before, beauty beyond the reach of words, the sublime is only to be found at Catskill when a thunder-storm is mustering its battalions and discharging its terrific artillery among the "rattle peaks." At other times, the one sensation that is inspired by every varying view from sunrise to sunset, is that of beauty unending and illimitable. And never is the spectacle so surpassingly beautiful as at the day-dawn of a summer’s morn.
After breakfast, the large company gathered in groups upon the ledge until the hour of service, or, with book in hand, strolled up into the thickets toward South Mountain. A few drove off to the Kauterskill Falls about three miles distant; but the Sabbath arrangements of our Sabbath-observing host were cordially responded to by nine-tenths of all his guest. This house is a "sweet home" all the week, and a sanctuary on the Lord’s day.
At eleven o’clock a gong sounded through the halls, and the parlors were soon filled by a quiet, reverential audience. A pulpit was extemporized in one corner of the drawing-room, quite as much of a pulpit as that from behind which Boanerges thunders every Sunday in Plymouth church. We had delightful music, for the leader of the "First Dutch Church" of Brooklyn, with his accomplished soprano, was present. Their rich voices led ours, as we joined in good old "Coronation;" and with swelling chorus shouted out, "Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings," in a style that would have gladdened Father Hastings’ soul. A stout substantial Scotch divine gave us a discourse quite Chalmerian in character, on the "wondrous works of God" in creation, providence, and redemption. We all like his Scotch brogue exceedingly; it is an unctuous brogue, whether for song or for sermon; whether in Burns’s lyrics or from Guthrie’s pulpit. In the Gaelicized English have been delivered many of the most magnificent discourses of modern days. In the afternoon our hotel congregation gathered again to hear a discourse from your Brooklyn friend on "Love for Christ as the inspiration and joy of the Christian’s life." Even a third service in the evening was crowded to the door! Again our good dominie from the "land o’ brown heath" addressed us, his subject being the "Sepulchre in the Garden;"—again our eyes were lifted toward the everlasting hills whence cometh all our help—again our voices rang out upon the still mountain air as we joined in singing "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people." When the company separated, unwearied, to their rooms, the general utterance was: "What a blessed Sabbath we have had! A more delightful we never passed than this Sabbath on the Catskill!"
Yesterday was clear from dawn to twilight. To-day the drenching rain is pouring down the window-pane. Over the ledge lies an Atlantic of vapor without sail or shore, and through the hemlocks on North mountain the wind brattles like a hurricane. We are disappointed of our expected ride through the Clove, a deep ravine, which was the favorite haut of Cole, and of his pupil Church. Over all this region these two sons of nature rambled together; their names are as thoroughly identified with as the name of Scott with the Eildon Hills, or that of Irving with the Hudson. Great as is the fame of Cole, it is not outstripped by his more celebrated pupils. No production of Turner is superior to the "Heart of the Andes—not even the "Sunset View of Cologne," or the "Building of Carthage." Claude is the acknowledged prince of landscape masterpieces of the man whose pictures used to sell for as much gold as would cover the canvass. Were the "Twilight in the Wilderness" to be found a few years hence in some dusty corner of an Italian convent, it might pass for a gem of Venetian or Florentine genius. Yet its author once played, a Yankee boy, in the streets of Hartford, and learned the secrets of his wondrous art, not in foreign galleries, but in yonder glorious Clove-gallery of rocks and mountain-pines, built by the Almighty arm.