From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston
A TERRITORY, not yet a State; still, nearer the acorn than we were.*
It was very pleasant coming up. These large and elegant boats are so well arranged that every excursion may be a party of pleasure. There are many fair shows to see on the lake and its shores, almost always new and agreeable persons on board, pretty children playing about, ladies singing (and if not very well, there is room to keep out of the way). You may see a great deal here of Life, in the London sense, if you know a few people; or if you do not, and have the tact to look about you without seeming to stare.
We came to Milwaukie, where we were to pass a fortnight or more.
This place is most beautifully situated. A little river, with romantic banks, passes up through the town. The bank of the lake is here a bold bluff, eighty feet in height. From its summit, you enjoyed a noble outlook on the lake. A little narrow path wound along the edge of the lake below. I liked this walk much,—above me this high wall of rich earth, garlanded on its crest with trees, the long ripples of the lake coming up to my feet. Here, standing in the shadow, I could appreciate better its magnificent changes of color, which are the chief beauties of the lake-waters; but these are indescribable.
It was fine to ascend into the lighthouse, above this bluff, and thence watch the thunder-clouds which so frequently rose over the lake, or the great boats coming in. Approaching the Milwaukie pier, they made a bend, and seemed to do obeisance in the heavy style of some dowager duchess entering a circle she wishes to treat with especial respect.
These boats come in and out every day, and still afford a cause for general excitement. The people swarm down to greet them, to receive and send away their packages and letters. To me they seemed such mighty messengers, to give, by their noble motion, such an idea of the power and fullness of life, that they were worthy to carry despatches from king to king. It must be very pleasant for those who have an active share in carrying on the affairs of this great and growing world to see them approach, and pleasant to such as have dearly loved friends at the next station. To those who have neither business nor friends, it sometimes gives a desolating sense of insignificance.
The town promises to be, some time, a fine one, as it is so well situated; and they have good building material,—a yellow brick, very pleasing to the eye. It seems to grow before you, and has indeed but just emerged from the thickets of oak and wild-roses. A few steps will take you into the thickets, and certainly I never saw so many wild-roses, or of so beautiful a red. Of such a color were the first red ones the world ever saw, when, says the legend, Venus flying to the assistance of Adonis, the rose-bushes kept catching her to make her stay, and the drops of blood the thorns drew from her feet, as she tore herself away, fell on the white roses, and turned them this beautiful red.
One day, walking along the river’s bank in search of a waterfall to be seen from one ravine, we heard tones from a band of music, and saw a gay troop shooting at a mark, on the opposite bank. Between every shot the band played; the effect was very pretty.
On this walk we found two of the oldest and most gnarled, hemlocks that ever afforded study for a painter. They were the only ones we saw; they seemed the veterans of a former race.
At Milwaukie, as at Chicago, are many pleasant people, drawn together from all parts of the world. A resident here would find great piquancy in the associations,—those he met having such dissimilar histories and topics. And several persons I saw, evidently transplanted from the most refined circles to be met in this country. There are lures enough in the West for people of all kinds;—the enthusiast and the cunning man; the naturalist, and the lover who needs to be rich for the sake of her he loves.
The torrent of immigration swells very strongly towards this place. During the fine weather, the poor refugees arrive daily, in their national dresses, all travel-soiled and worn. The night they pass in rude shantees, in a particular quarter of the town, then walk off into the country,—the mothers carrying their infants, the fathers leading the little children by the hand, seeking a home where their hands may maintain them.
One morning we set off in their track, and travelled a day’s journey into this country,—fair, yet not, in that part which I saw, comparable, in my eyes, to the Rock River region. Rich fields, proper for grain, alternate with oak openings, as they are called; bold, various, and beautiful were the features of the scene, but I saw not those majestic sweeps, those boundless distances, those heavenly fields; it was not the same world.
Neither did we travel in the same delightful manner. We were now in a nice carriage, which must not go off the road, for fear of breakage, with a regular coachman, whose chief care was not to tire his horses, and who had no taste for entering fields in pursuit of wild-flowers, or tempting some strange wood-path in search of whatever might befall. It was pleasant, but almost as tame as New England.
But charming indeed was the place where we stopped. It was in the vicinity of a chain of lakes, and on the bank of the loveliest little stream, called the Bark River, which flowed in rapid amber brightness, through fields, and dells, and stately knolls, of most poetic beauty.
The little log-cabin where we slept, with its flower-garden in front, disturbed the scene no more than a stray lock on the fair cheek. The hospitality of that house I may well call princely; it was the boundless hospitality of the heart, which, if it has no Aladdin’s lamp to create a palace for the guest, does him still higher service by the freedom of its bounty up to the very last drop of its powers.
Sweet were the sunsets seen in the valley of this stream, though here, and, I grieve to say, no less near the Rock River, the fiend, who has ever liberty to tempt the happy in this world, appeared in the shape of mosquitos, and allowed us no bodily to enjoy our mental peace.
One day we ladies gave, under the guidance of our host, to visiting all the beauties of the adjacent lakes,—Nomabbin, Silver, and Pine Lakes. On the shore of Nomabbin had formerly been one of the finest Indian villages. Our host said, that,once, as he was lying there beneath the bank, he saw a tall Indian standing at gaze on the knoll. He lay a long time, curious to see how long the figure would maintain its statue-like absorption. But at last his patience yielded, and, in moving, he made a slight noise. The Indian saw him, gave a wild, snorting sound of indignation and pain, and strode away.
What feelings must consume their heart at such moments! I scarcely see how they can forbear to shoot the white man where he stands.
But the power of fate is with the white man, and the Indian feels it. This same gentleman told of his travelling through the wilderness with an Indian guide. He had with him a bottle of spirit which he meant to give him in small quantities, but the Indian, once excited, wanted the whole at once. “I would not,” said Mr. ——, “give it him, for I thought, if he got really drunk, there was an end to his services as a guide. But he persisted, and at last tried to take it from me. I was not armed; he was, and twice as strong as I. But I knew an Indian could not resist the look of a white man, and I fixed my eye steadily on his. He bore it for a moment, then his eye fell; he let go the bottle. I took his gun and threw it to a distance. After a few moments’ pause, I told him to go and fetch it, and left it in his hands. From that moment he was quite obedient, even servile, all the rest of the way.”
This gentleman, though in other respects of most kindly and liberal heart, showed the aversion that the white man soon learns to feel for the Indian on whom he encroaches,—the aversion of the injurer for him he has degraded. After telling the anecdote of his seeing the Indian gazing at the seat of his former home,
and which, one would think, would have awakened soft compassion—almost remorse—in the present owner of that fair hill, which contained for the exile the bones of his dead, the ashes of his hopes, he observed, “They cannot be prevented from straggling back here to their old haunts. I wish they could. They ought not to permitted ‘to drive away our game.” OUR game,—just heavens!
The same gentleman showed, on a slight occasion, the true spirit of a sportsman, or perhaps I might say of Man, when engaged in any kind of chase. Showing us some antlers, he said: “This one belonged to a majestic creature. But this other was the beauty. I had been lying a long time at watch, when at last I heard them come crackling along. I lifted my head cautiously, as they burst through the trees. The first was a magnificent fellow; but then I saw coming one, the prettiest, the most graceful I ever beheld,—there was something so soft and beseeching in its look. I chose him at once, took aim, and shot him dead. You see the antlers are not very large; it was young, but the prettiest creature!”
In the course of this morning’s drive, we visited the gentlemen on their fishing party. They hailed us gaily, and rowed ashore to show us what fine booty they had. No disappointment there, no dull work.
On the beautiful point of land from which we first saw them lived a contented woman, the only one I heard of out there. She was English, and said she had seen so much suffering in her own country, that the hardships of this seemed as nothing to her. But the others—even our sweet and gentle hostess—found their labors disproportioned to their strength, if not to their patience; and, while their husbands and brothers enjoyed the country in hunting or fishing, they found themselves confined to a comfortless and laborious in-door life. But it need not be so long.
This afternoon, driving about on the banks of these lakes, we found the scene all of one kind of loveliness; wide, graceful woods, and then these fine sheets of water, with fine points of land jutting out boldly into them. It was lovely, but not striking or peculiar.
All woods suggest pictures. The European forest, with its long glades and green, sunny dells, naturally suggested the figures of armed knight on his proud steed, or maiden, decked in gold and pearl, pricking along them on a snow-white palfrey; the green dells, of weary Palmer sleeping there beside the spring with his head upon his wallet. Our minds, familiar with such figures, people with them the New England woods, wherever the sunlight falls down a longer than usual cart-track, wherever a cleared spot has lain still enough for the trees to look friendly, with their exposed sides cultivated by the light, and the grass to look velvet warm, and be embroidered with flowers. These Western woods suggest a different kind of ballad. The Indian legends have often an air of the wildest solitude, as has the one Mr. Lowell has put into verse in his late volume. But I did not see those wild woods; only such as suggest little romances of love and sorrow, like this:—
Tear-bedewed her pale cheeks be,
And she sigheth heavily.
From forth the wood into the light
A hunter strides, with carol light,
And a glance so bold and bright.
He careless stopped and eyed the maid;
“Why weepest thou?” he gently said;
“I love thee well; be not afraid.”
He takes her hand, and lends her on;
She should have waited there alone,
For he was not her chosen one.
He leans her head upon his breast,
She knew ‘t was not her home of rest,
But ah! she had been sore distrest.
The sacred stars looked sadly down;
The parting moon appeared to frown,
To see thus dimmed the diamond crown.
Then from the thicket starts a deer,
The huntsman, seizing on his spear,
Cries, “Maiden, wait thou for me here.”
She sees him vanish into night,
She starts from sleep in deep affright,
For it was not her own true knight.
Though but in dream Gunhilda failed;
Though but a fancied ill assailed,
Though she but fancied fault bewailed,—
Yet thought of day makes dream of night;
She is not worthy of the knight,
The inmost altar burns not bright.
If loneliness thou canst not bear,
Cannot the dragon’s venom dare,
Of the pure meed thou shouldst despair.
Now sadder that lone maiden sighs,
Far bitterer tears profane her eyes,
Crushed in the dust her heart’s flower lies.
On the bank of Silver Lake we saw an Indian encampment. A shower threatened us, but we resolved to try if we could not visit it before it came on. We crossed a wide field on foot, and found the Indians amid the trees on a shelving bank; just as we reached them, the rain began to fall in torrents, with frequent thunder-claps, and we had to take refuge in their lodges. These were very small, being for temporary use, and we crowded the occupants much, among whom were several sick, on the damp ground, or with only a ragged mat between them and it. But they showed all the gentle courtesy which marks their demeanor towards the stranger, who stands in any need; though it was obvious that the visit, which inconvenienced them, could only have been caused by the most impertinent curiosity, they made us as comfortable as their extreme poverty permitted. They seemed to think we would not like to touch them; a sick girl in the lodge where I was, persisted in moving so as to give me the dry place; a woman, with the sweet melancholy eye of the race, kept off the children and wet dogs from even the hem of my garment.
Without, their fires smouldered, and black kettles, hung over them on sticks, smoked and seethed in the rain. An old, theatrical-looking Indian stood with arms folded, looking up to the heavens, from which the rain dashed and the thunder reverberated; his air was French-Roman; that is, more Romanesque than Roman. The Indian ponies, much excited, kept careering through the wood, around the encampment, and now and then, halting suddenly, would thrust in their intelligent, though amazed, faces, as if to ask their masters when this awful pother would cease, and then, after a moment, rush and trample off again.
At last we got away, well wetted, but with a picturesque scene for memory. At a house where we stopped to get dry, they told us that this wandering band (of Pottawattamies), who had returned on a visit, either from homesickness, or need of relief, were extremely destitute. The women had been there to see if they could barter for food their head-bands with which they club their hair behind into a form not unlike a Grecian knot. They seemed, indeed, to have neither food, utensils, clothes, nor bedding; nothing but the ground, the sky, and their own strength. Little wonder if they drove off the game!
Part of the same band I had seen in Milwaukie, on a begging dance. The effect of this was wild and grotesque. They wore much paint and feather head-dresses. “Indians without paint are poor coots,” said a gentleman who had been a great deal with, and really liked, them; and I like the effect, of the paint on them; it reminds of the gay fantasies of nature. With them in Milwaukie was a chief, the finest Indian figure I saw, more than six feet in height, erect, and of a sullen, but grand gait and gesture. He wore a deep-red blanket, which fell in large folds from his shoulders to his feet, did not join in the dance, but slowly strode about through the streets, a fine sight, not a French-Roman, but a real Roman. He looked unhappy, but listlessly unhappy, as if he felt it was of no use to strive or resist.
While in the neighborhood of these lakes, we visited also a foreign settlement of great interest. Here were minds, it seemed, to “comprehend the trust” of their new life; and if they can only stand true to them, will derive and bestow great benefits therefrom.
But sad and sickening to the enthusiast who comes to these shores, hoping the tranquil enjoyment of intellectual blessings, and the pure happiness of mutual love, must be a part of the scene that he encounters at first. He has escaped from the heartlessness of courts, to encounter the vulgarity of the mob; he has secured solitude, but it is a lonely, a deserted solitude. Amid the abundance of nature, he cannot, from petty, but insuperable obstacles, procure, for a long time, comforts, or a home.
But let him come sufficiently armed with patience to learn the new spells which the new dragons require, (and this can only be done on the spot,) he will not finally be disappointed of the promised treasure; the mob will resolve itself into men, yet crude, but of good dispositions, and capable of good character; the solitude will become sufficiently enlivened, and home grow up at last from the rich sod.
In this transition state we found one of these homes. As we approached, it seemed the very Eden which earth might still afford to a pair willing to give up the hackneyed pleasures of the world for a better and more intimate communion with one another and with beauty: the wild road led through wide, beautiful woods, to the wilder and more beautiful shores of the finest lake we saw. On its waters, glittering in the morning sun, a few Indians were paddling to and fro in their light canoes. On one of those fair knolls I have so often mentioned, stood the cottage, beneath trees which stooped as if they yet felt brotherhood with its roof-tree. Flowers waved, birds fluttered round, all had the sweetness of a happy seclusion; all invited to cry to those who inhabited it, All hail ye happy ones!
But on entrance to those evidently rich in personal beauty, talents, love, and courage, the aspect of things was rather sad. Sickness had been with them, death, care, and labor; these had not yet blighted them, but had turned their gay smiles grave. It seemed that hope and joy had given place to resolution. How much, too, was there in them, worthless in this place, which would have been so valuable elsewhere! Refined graces, cultivated powers, shine in vain before field-laborers, as laborers are in this present world; you might as well cultivate heliotropes to present to an ox. Oxen and heliotropes are both good, but not for one another.
With them were some of the old means of enjoyment, the books, the pencil, the guitar; but where the wash-tub and the axe are so constantly in requisition, there is not much time and pliancy of hand for these.
In the inner room, the master of the house was seated; he had been sitting there long, for he had injured his foot on ship-board, and his farming had to be done by proxy. His beautiful young wife was only attendant and nurse, as well as a farm house-keeper. How well she performed hard and unaccustomed duties, the objects of her care showed; everything that belonged to the house was rude, but neatly arranged. The invalid, confined to an uneasy wooden chair, (they had not been able to induce any one to bring them an easy-chair from the town,) looked as neat and elegant as if he had been dressed by the valet of a duke. He was of Northern blood, with clear, full blue eyes, calm features, a tempering of the soldier, scholar, and man of the world, in his aspect. Either various intercourses had given himself that thorough-bred look never seen in Americans, or that it was inherited from a race who had known all these disciplines. He formed a great but pleasing contrast to his wife, whose glowing complexion and dark mellow eye bespoke an origin in some climate more familiar with the sun. He looked as if he could sit there a great while patiently, and live on his own mind, biding his time; she, as if she could bear anything for affection’s sake, but would feel the weight of each moment as it passed.
Seeing the album full of drawings and verses, which bespoke the circle of elegant and affectionate intercourse they had left behind, we could not but see that the young wife sometimes must need a sister, the husband a companion, and both must often miss that electricity which sparkles from the chain of congenial minds.
For mankind, a position is desirable in some degree proportioned to education. Mr. Birkbeck was bred a farmer, but these were nurslings of the court and city; they may persevere, for an affectionate courage shone in their eyes, and, if so, become true lords of the soil, and informing geniuses to those around; then, perhaps, they will feel that they have not paid too dear for the tormented independence of the new settler’s life. But, generally, damask roses will not thrive in the wood, and a ruder growth, if healthy and pure, we wish rather to see there.
I feel about these foreigners very differently from what I do about from Americans. American men and women are inexcusable if they do not bring up children so as to be fit for vicissitudes; the meaning of our star is, that here all men being free and equal, every man should be fitted for freedom and an independence by his own resources wherever the changeful wave of our mighty stream may take him. But the star of Europe brought a different horoscope, and to mix destinies breaks the thread of both. The Arabian horse will not plough well, nor can the plough-horse be rode to play the jereed. Yet a man is a man wherever he goes, and something precious cannot fail to be gained by one who knows how to abide by a resolution of any kind, and pay the cost without a murmur.
Returning, the fine carriage at last fulfilled its threat of breaking down. We took refuge in a farm-house. Here was a pleasant scene,—a rich and beautiful estate, several happy families, who had removed together, and formed a natural community, ready to help and enliven one another. They were farmers at home, in Western New York, and both men and women knew how to work. Yet even here the women did not like the change, but they were willing, “as it might be best for the young folks.” Their hospitality was great; the houseful of women and pretty children seemed all of one mind.
Returning to Milwaukie much fatigued, I entertained myself for a day or two with reading. The book I had brought with me was in strong contrast with the life around me. Very strange was this vision of an exalted and sensitive existence, which seemed to invade the next sphere, in contrast with the spontaneous, instinctive life, so healthy and so near the ground I had been surveying. This was the German book entitled:—
“The Seeress of Prevorst.—Revelations concerning the Inward Life of Man, and the Projection of a World of Spirits into ours, communicated by Justinus Kerner.”
This book, published in Germany some twelve years since, and which called forth there plenteous dews of admiration, as plenteous hail-storms of jeers and scorns, I never saw mentioned in any English publication till some year or two since. Then a playful, but not sarcastic account of it, in the Dublin Magazine, so far excited my curiosity, that I procured the book, intending to read it so soon as I should have some leisure days, such as this journey has afforded.
Dr. Kerner, its author, is a man of distinction in his native land, both as a physician and a thinker, though always on the side of reverence, marvel, and mysticism. He was known to me only through two or three little poems of his in Catholic legends, which I much admired for the fine sense they showed of the beauty of symbols.
He here gives a biography, mental and physical, of ono of the most remarkable cases of high nervous excitement that the age, so interested in such, yet affords, with all its phenomena of clairvoyance and susceptibility of magnetic influences. As to my own mental position on these subjects it may be briefly expressed by a dialogue between several persons who honor me with a portion of friendly confidence and of criticism, and myself, personified as Free Hope. The others may be styled Old Church, Good Sense, and Self-Poise.
Good Sense. I wonder you can take any interest in such observations or experiments. Don’t you see how almost impossible it is to make them with any exactness, how entirely impossible to know anything about them unless made by yourself, when the least leaven of credulity, excited fancy, to say nothing of willing or careless imposture, spoils the whole loaf? Beside, allowing the possibility of some clear glimpses into a higher state of being, what do we want of it now? All around us lies what we neither understand nor use. Our capacities, our instincts for this our present sphere are but half developed. Let us confine ourselves to that till the lesson be learned; let us be completely natural, before we trouble ourselves with the supernatural. I never see any of these things but I long to get away and lie under a green tree, and let the wind blow on me. There is marvel and charm enough in that for me.
Free Hope. And for me also. Nothing is truer than the Wordsworthian creed, on which Carlyle lays such stress, that we need only look on the miracle of every day, to sate ourselves with thought and admiration every day. But how are our faculties sharpened to do it? Precisely by apprehending the infinite results of every day.
Who sees the meaning of the flower uprooted in the ploughed field? The ploughman who does not look beyond its boundaries and does not raise his eyes from the ground? No,—but the poet who sees that field in its relations with the universe, and looks oftener to the sky than on the ground. Only the dreamer shall understand realities, though, in truth, his dreaming must not be out of proportion to his waking!
The mind, roused powerfully by this existence, stretches of itself into what the French sage calls the “aromal state.” From the hope thus gleaned it forms the hypothesis, under whose banner it collects its facts.
Long before these slight attempts were made to establish as a science what is at present called animal magnetism, always, in fact, men were occupied more or less with this vital principle,—principle of flux and influx,—dynamic of our mental mechanics,—human phase of electricity. Poetic observation was pure, there was no quackery in its free course, as there is so often in this wilful tampering with the hidden springs of life, for it is tampering unless done in a patient spirit and with severe truth; yet it may be, by the rude or greedy miners, some good ore is unearthed. And some there are who work in the true temper, patient and accurate in trial, not eager to call it by name, till they can know it as a reality: such may learn, such may teach.
Subject to the sudden revelations, the breaks in habitual existence, caused by the aspect of death, the touch of love, the flood of music, I never lived, that I remember, what you call a common natural day. All my days are touched by the supernatural, for I feel the pressure of hidden causes, and the presence, sometimes the communion, of unseen powers. It needs not that I should ask the clairvoyant whether “a spirit-world projects into ours.” As to the specific evidence, I would not tarnish my mind by hasty reception. The mind is not, I know, a highway, but a temple, and its doors should not be carelessly left open. Yet it were sin, if indolence or coldness excluded what had a claim to enter; and I doubt whether, in the eyes of pure intelligence, an ill-grounded hasty rejection be not a greater sign of weakness than an ill-grounded and hasty faith.
I will quote, as my best plea, the saying of a man old in years, but not in heart, and whose long life has been distinguished by that clear adaptation of means to ends which gives the credit of practical wisdom. He wrote to his child, “I have lived too long, and seen too much to be incredulous.” Noble the thought, no less so its frank expression, instead of saws of caution, mean advices, and other modern instances. Such was the romance of Socrates when he bade his disciples “sacrifice a cock to Æsculapius.”
Old Church. You are always so quick-witted and voluble, Free Hope, you don’t get time to see how often you err, and even, perhaps, sin and blaspheme. The Author of all has intended to confine our knowledge within certain boundaries, has given us a short span of time for a certain probation, for which our faculties are adapted. By wild speculation and intemperate curiosity we violate His will and incur dangerous, perhaps fatal, consequences. We waste our powers, and, becoming morbid and visionary, are unfitted to obey positive precepts, and perform positive duties.
Free Hope. I do not see how it is possible to go further beyond the results of a limited human experience than those do who pretend to settle the origin and nature of sin, the final destiny of souls, and the whole plan of the Causal Spirit with regard to them. I think those who take your view have not examined themselves, and do not know the ground on which they stand.
I acknowledge no limit, set up by man’s opinion, as to the capacities of man. “Care is taken,” I see it, “that the trees grow not up into heaven”; but, to me it seems, the more vigorously they aspire, the better. Only let it be a vigorous, not a partial or sickly aspiration. Let not the tree forget its root.
So long as the child insists on knowing where its dead parent is, so long as bright eyes weep at mysterious pressures, too heavy for the life, so long as that impulse is constantly arising which made the Roman emperor address his soul in a strain of such touching softness, vanishing from the thought, as the column of smoke from the eye, I know, of no inquiry which the impulse of man suggests that is forbidden to the resolution of man to pursue. In every inquiry, unless sustained by a pure and reverent spirit, he gropes in the dark, or falls headlong.
Self-Poise. All this may be very true, but what is the use of all this straining? Far-sought is dear-bought. When we know that all is in each, and that the ordinary contains the extra-ordinary, why should we play the baby, and insist upon having the moon for a toy when a tin dish will do as well? Our deep ignorance is a chasm that we can only fill up by degrees, but the commonest rubbish will help us as well as shred silk. The god Brahma, while on earth, was set to fill up a valley, but he had only a basket given him in which to fetch earth for this purpose; so is it with us all. No leaps, no starts will avail us, by patient crystallization alone, the equal temper of wisdom is attainable. Sit at home, and the spirit-world will look in at your window with moonlit eyes; run out to find it, and rainbow and golden cup will have vanished, and left you the beggarly child you were. The better part of wisdom is a sublime prudence, a pure and patient truth that will receive nothing it is not sure it can permanently lay to heart. Of our study, there should be in proportion two thirds of rejection to one of acceptance. And, amid the manifold infatuations and illusions of this world of emotion, a being capable of clear intelligence can do no better service than to hold himself upright, avoid nonsense, and do what chores lie in his way, acknowledging every moment that primal truth, which no fact exhibits, nor, if pressed by too warm a hope, will even indicate. I think, indeed, it is part of our lesson to give a formal consent to what is farcical, and to pick up our living and our virtue amid what is so ridiculous, hardly deigning a smile, and certainly not vexed. The work is done through all, if not by every one.
Free Hope. Thou art greatly wise, my friend, and ever respected by me, yet I find not in your theory or your scope room enough for the lyric inspirations or the mysterious whispers of life. To me it seems that it is madder never to abandon one’s self, than often to be infatuated; better to be wounded, a captive, and a slave, than always to walk in armor. As to magnetism, that is only a matter of fancy. You sometimes need just such a field in which to wander vagrant, and if it bear a higher name, yet it may be that, in last result, the trance of Pythagoras might be classed with the more infantine transports of the Seeress of Prevorst.
What is done interests me more than what is thought and supposed. Every fact is impure, but every fact contains in it the juices of life. Every fact is a clod, from which may grow an amaranth or a palm.
Climb you the snowy peaks whence come the streams, where the atmosphere is rare, where you can see the sky nearer, from which you can get a commanding view of the landscape? I see great disadvantages as well as advantages in this dignified position. I had rather walk myself through all kinds of places, even at the risk of being robbed in the forest, half drowned at the ford, and covered with dust in the street.
I would beat with the living heart of the world, and understand all the moods, even the fancies or fantasies, of nature. I dare to trust to the interpreting spirit to bring me out all right at last,—to establish truth through error.
Whether this be the best way is of no consequence, if it be the one individual character points out.
From glittering heights the eyes to strain;
I the truth can only know,
Tested by life’s most fiery glow.
Seeds of thought will never thrive
Till dews of love shall bid them live.
Let me stand in my age with all its waters flowing round me. If they sometimes subdue, they must finally upbear me, for I seek the universal,—and that must be the best.
The Spirit, no doubt, leads in every movement of my time: if I seek the How, I shall find it, as well as if I busied myself more with the Why.
Whatever is, is right, if only men are steadily bent to make it so, by comprehending and fulfilling its design.
May not I have an office, too, in my hospitality and ready sympathy? If I sometimes entertain guests who cannot pay with gold coin, with “fair rose nobles,” that is better than to lose the chance of entertaining angels unawares.
You, my three friends, are held in heart-honor, by me. You, especially, Good-Sense, because where you do not go yourself, you do not object to another’s going, if he will. You are really liberal. You, Old Church, are of use, by keeping unforgot the effigies of old religion, and reviving the tone of pure Spenserian sentiment, which this time is apt to stifle in its childish haste. But you are very faulty in censuring and wishing to limit others by your own standard. You, Self-Poise, fill a priestly office. Could but a larger intelligence of the vocations of others, and a tender sympathy with, their individual natures be added, had you more of love, or more of apprehensive genius, (for either would give you the needed expansion and delicacy.) you would- command my entire reverence. As it is, I must at times deny and oppose you; and so must others, for you tend, by your influence, to exclude us from our full, free life. We must be content when you censure, and rejoiced when you approve; always admonished to good by your whole being, and sometimes by your judgment.
Do not blame me that I have written so much suggested by the German seeress, while you were looking for news of the West. Here on the pier, I see disembarking the Germans, the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Swiss. Who knows how much of old legendary lore, of modern wonder, they have already planted amid the Wisconsin forests? Soon, their tales of the origin of things, and the Providence which rules them, will be so mingled wi.th those of the Indian, that the very oak-tree will not know them apart,—will not know whether itself be a Runic, a Druid, or a Winnebago oak.
Some seeds of all growths that have ever been known in this world might, no doubt, already be found in these Western wilds, if we had the power to call them to life.
I saw, in the newspaper, that the American Tract Society boasted of their agent’s having exchanged, at a Western cabin door, tracts for the “Devil on Two Sticks,” and then burnt that more entertaining than edifying volume. No wonder, though, they study it there. Could one but have the gift of reading the dreams dreamed by men of such various birth, various history, various mind, it would afford much more extensive amusement than did the chambers of one Spanish city!
Could I but have flown at night through such mental experiences, instead of being shut up in my little bedroom at the Milwaukie boarding-house, this chapter would have been worth reading. As it is, let us hasten to a close.
Had I been rich in money, I might have built a house, or set up in business, during my fortnight’s stay at Milwaukie, matters move on there at so rapid a rate. But, being only rich in curiosity, I was obliged to walk the streets and pick up what I could in casual intercourse. When I left the street, indeed, and walked on the bluffs, or sat beside the lake in their shadow, my mind was rich in dreams congenial to the scene, some time to be realized, though not by me.
A boat was left, keel up, half on the sand, half in the water, swaying with each swell of the lake. It gave a picturesque grace to that part of the shore, as the only image of inaction,—only object of a pensive character to be seen. Near this I sat, to dream my dreams and watch the colors of the lake, changing hourly, till the sun sank. These hours yielded impulses, wove webs, such as life will not again afford.
Returning to the boarding-house, which was also a boarding-school, we were sure to be greeted by gay laughter.
This school was conducted by two girts of nineteen and seventeen years; their pupils were nearly as old as themselves. The relation seemed very pleasant between them; the only superiority—that of superior knowledge—was sufficient to maintain authority,—all the authority that was needed to keep daily life in good order.
In the West, people are not respected merely because they are old in years; people there have not time to keep up appearances in that way; when persons cease to have a real advantage in wisdom, knowledge, or enterprise, they must stand back, and let those who are oldest in character “go ahead,” however few years they may count. There are no banks of established respectability in which to bury the talent there; no napkin of precedent in which to wrap it. What cannot be made to pass current, is not esteemed coin of the realm.
To the windows of this house, where the daughter of a famous “Indian fighter,” i.e. fighter against the Indians, was learning French and the piano, came wild, tawny figures, offering for sale their baskets of berries. The boys now, instead of brandishing the tomahawk, tame their hands to pick raspberries.
Here the evenings were much lightened by the gay chat of one of the party, who with the excellent practical sense of mature experience, and the kindest heart, united a naïveté and innocence such as I never saw in any other who had walked so long life’s tangled path. Like a child, she was everywhere at home, and, like a child, received and bestowed entertainment from all places, all persons. I thanked her for making me laugh, as did the sick and poor, whom she was sure to find out in her briefest sojourn in any place, for more substantial aid. Happy are those who never grieve, and so often aid and enliven their fellow men!
This scene, however, I was not sorry to exchange for the much celebrated beauties of the Island of Mackinaw.
* Wisconsin was not admitted into the Union as a State till 1847, after this volume was written.—ED.
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