Notwithstanding the long preparation of our minds, we were struck with admiration and delight by a view of the vast steam-ship. Once again we envied him of whose thought this is the full-grown offspring, and when admitted to see the apparatus of heart and lungs, felt that if Man is no longer a giant, he is at least the creator of giants. It is a proud feeling to tread these decks from end to end; ought indeed to be proud for those who steer her mighty path upon the Ocean.
As we looked on her, we longed for a Homer to describe her with that accuracy in detail and full glory of epithet by which he makes present to us the apparatus of the old heroic time. So the Greek described the Argo, earliest bud of a growth that has now towered so high. But that beautiful boat was more to him, than all the wonders of our waters are to us, for he contemplated it with deeper feeling and more intelligent appreciation.
We have a letter written to us from New-York, when the Great Western first left her harbor, that is a true poem as good as one of Greece, and many thousands shared the enthusiasm of that hour. But now the magic spells evoke forms of wonder so thickly that the gazers have not time left to admire, but glance at them with the same nonchalance that they do at the glories of sunset and sunrise. There is no miracle that man will not soon learn to hold carelessly as one of the counters in his game of life. Yet let us pause now and then a moment and open the eyes to the grand, the poetic combinations of our time. Our point of view is so grand and commanding, if we will but command from it. We are not, ourselves, sufficiently used to New-York, not consciously to realize, as well as move with, the vast tides of life that flow through her. We still wish no poem beyond the sight of the wood of masts that embraces her. We still feel the life-blood rushing from an entire continent to swell her heart.
We see that there have been just now made in Paris for the city of Boulogne a sword and vases of fine design. The designs for the sword are elegant, but we hope New-York will never again need a sword. But vases would be an appropriate utensil to a city where water is so abundant. She may be interested then to hear of the vases of Boulogne. These are modeled by Larue, in the Greek style, the top is embraced by two Tritons whose shoulders sustain the handles, while their large scaly tails are unrolled beneath the bas-relief which forms the centre of the vase. This has on one side Commerce and Peace sustaining the escutcheon of the arms of the City; on the other Boulogne sitting; on her left are seen the sea and the galleys of Caesar, the camp and pillar of Napoleon. On her right a locomotive bringing a train from Amiens, whose cathedral is traced at a distance. Thus this bas-relief reproduces the history of the three principal epochs of Boulogne, Caesar embarking to conquer England, Napoleon encamping there, and the era of Railroads which will augment her prosperity.
What follows is whimsically illustrative of that ignorance and folly so often to be detected in designs for such purposes, since Art has ceased to be the growth of the natural mind and its products are, to the many, rather articles of expense and luxury than musical echoes to their thoughts. “A swan is placed upon the arms of Boulogne; in this the artist, no doubt, obeyed the directions of the Municipal Council. But it was not a swan the Boulogne has heretofore carried on her shield: it was a goose. The Municipal Council, in wishing to ennoble the blazon, has made a great mistake. The swan is a graceful and appropriate emblem for the escutcheon of a poet or singer, but for the purpose of these vases, the goose is much more noble. A symbol of vigilance, the goose cries out when the enemy appears. Let, then, the Municipal Council repent their puerile vanity and restore to Boulogne the civil emblem that belongs to her.”
When artists are employed to make the vases for New-York, we hope they will know how to choose their emblems from thought not fancy, and they will surely choose the steam-ship for one of her ornaments. We are glad to see these new, and at first sight repulsive forms, subordinated to the purposes of art, as in the case of the locomotive on the Boulogne vase. Wordsworth had already welcomed them to Poetry in the following
TO STEAMBOATS, VIADUCTS, AND RAILWAYS.
MOTIONS and means, on land and sea at war
With old poetic feeling, not for this,
Shall ye, by poets even be judged amiss!
Nor shall your presence, howsoe’er it mar
The loveliness of Nature, prove a bar
To the mind’s gaining that prophetic sense
Of future change, that point of vision whence
May be discovered what in soul ye are,
In spite of all that beauty may disown
In your harsh features, Nature doth embrace
Her lawful offspring in Man’s art; and Time,
Pleased with your triumphs o’er his brother Space,
Accepts from your bold hands the proffered crown
Of hope, and smiles on you with cheer sublime.
Indeed, though these “motions and means” have not on first introduction that poetic grace which accompanies those which accommodated themselves more to the general condition of earth and sea, they soon exhibit one of their own. The rude breek of the rail-road through the country is soon hid by the gentle fingers of Nature, and grasses and plants creep up to the very track and hide the scars of the blasted rock. By day both the sound and sight of the rushing train, with its smoke and flash become pleasing; if enjoyed at due distance they enhance the beauty of the surrounding scene. In a dark night the approach of the train with its fiery eyes is truly sublime; the thought of man seems piercing the kingdom of nature with the swiftness and force of demoniac power. (Take notice, reader, that demon does not necessarily mean devil, but only super or praeter human being!) It is the approach towering in might not to be impeded of the steamer most majestic and contrasts finely with the spirit-like motions of the sail-ships, the most beautiful of all the works of man. There is room upon the element for the whale as well as the sea gull.
We admired the plain and solid style adopted in all parts of the Great Britain, so simple, so judicious, so easily kept clean, so truly English! far more elegant in such a place than much carving and gilding.*
“The Great Britain.” New-York Daily Tribune, 30 August 1845, p. 1.