CHAPTER XIV - RETURN TO CINCINNATI. A STAGE-COACH RIDE FROM THAT CITY TO COLUMBUS, AND THENCE TO SANDUSKY. SO, BY LAKE ERIE, TO THE FALLS OF NIAGARA
AS I had a desire to travel through the interior of the state of
Ohio, and to 'strike the lakes,' as the phrase is, at a small town
called Sandusky, to which that route would conduct us on our way to
Niagara, we had to return from St. Louis by the way we had come,
and to retrace our former track as far as Cincinnati.
The day on which we were to take leave of St. Louis being very
fine; and the steamboat, which was to have started I don't know how
early in the morning, postponing, for the third or fourth time, her
departure until the afternoon; we rode forward to an old French
village on the river, called properly Carondelet, and nicknamed
Vide Poche, and arranged that the packet should call for us there.
The place consisted of a few poor cottages, and two or three
public-houses; the state of whose larders certainly seemed to
justify the second designation of the village, for there was
nothing to eat in any of them. At length, however, by going back
some half a mile or so, we found a solitary house where ham and
coffee were procurable; and there we tarried to wait the advent of
the boat, which would come in sight from the green before the door,
a long way off.
It was a neat, unpretending village tavern, and we took our repast
in a quaint little room with a bed in it, decorated with some old
oil paintings, which in their time had probably done duty in a
Catholic chapel or monastery. The fare was very good, and served
with great cleanliness. The house was kept by a characteristic old
couple, with whom we had a long talk, and who were perhaps a very
good sample of that kind of people in the West.
The landlord was a dry, tough, hard-faced old fellow (not so very
old either, for he was but just turned sixty, I should think), who
had been out with the militia in the last war with England, and had
seen all kinds of service, - except a battle; and he had been very
near seeing that, he added: very near. He had all his life been
restless and locomotive, with an irresistible desire for change;
and was still the son of his old self: for if he had nothing to
keep him at home, he said (slightly jerking his hat and his thumb
towards the window of the room in which the old lady sat, as we
stood talking in front of the house), he would clean up his musket,
and be off to Texas to-morrow morning. He was one of the very many
descendants of Cain proper to this continent, who seem destined
from their birth to serve as pioneers in the great human army: who
gladly go on from year to year extending its outposts, and leaving
home after home behind them; and die at last, utterly regardless of
their graves being left thousands of miles behind, by the wandering
generation who succeed.
His wife was a domesticated, kind-hearted old soul, who had come
with him, 'from the queen city of the world,' which, it seemed, was
Philadelphia; but had no love for this Western country, and indeed
had little reason to bear it any; having seen her children, one by
one, die here of fever, in the full prime and beauty of their
youth. Her heart was sore, she said, to think of them; and to talk
on this theme, even to strangers, in that blighted place, so far
from her old home, eased it somewhat, and became a melancholy
The boat appearing towards evening, we bade adieu to the poor old
lady and her vagrant spouse, and making for the nearest landing-
place, were soon on board The Messenger again, in our old cabin,
and steaming down the Mississippi.
If the coming up this river, slowly making head against the stream,
be an irksome journey, the shooting down it with the turbid current
is almost worse; for then the boat, proceeding at the rate of
twelve or fifteen miles an hour, has to force its passage through a
labyrinth of floating logs, which, in the dark, it is often
impossible to see beforehand or avoid. All that night, the bell
was never silent for five minutes at a time; and after every ring
the vessel reeled again, sometimes beneath a single blow, sometimes
beneath a dozen dealt in quick succession, the lightest of which
seemed more than enough to beat in her frail keel, as though it had
been pie-crust. Looking down upon the filthy river after dark, it
seemed to be alive with monsters, as these black masses rolled upon
the surface, or came starting up again, head first, when the boat,
in ploughing her way among a shoal of such obstructions, drove a
few among them for the moment under water. Sometimes the engine
stopped during a long interval, and then before her and behind, and
gathering close about her on all sides, were so many of these ill-
favoured obstacles that she was fairly hemmed in; the centre of a
floating island; and was constrained to pause until they parted,
somewhere, as dark clouds will do before the wind, and opened by
degrees a channel out.
In good time next morning, however, we came again in sight of the
detestable morass called Cairo; and stopping there to take in wood,
lay alongside a barge, whose starting timbers scarcely held
together. It was moored to the bank, and on its side was painted
'Coffee House;' that being, I suppose, the floating paradise to
which the people fly for shelter when they lose their houses for a
month or two beneath the hideous waters of the Mississippi. But
looking southward from this point, we had the satisfaction of
seeing that intolerable river dragging its slimy length and ugly
freight abruptly off towards New Orleans; and passing a yellow line
which stretched across the current, were again upon the clear Ohio,
never, I trust, to see the Mississippi more, saving in troubled
dreams and nightmares. Leaving it for the company of its sparkling
neighbour, was like the transition from pain to ease, or the
awakening from a horrible vision to cheerful realities.
We arrived at Louisville on the fourth night, and gladly availed
ourselves of its excellent hotel. Next day we went on in the Ben
Franklin, a beautiful mail steamboat, and reached Cincinnati
shortly after midnight. Being by this time nearly tired of
sleeping upon shelves, we had remained awake to go ashore
straightway; and groping a passage across the dark decks of other
boats, and among labyrinths of engine-machinery and leaking casks
of molasses, we reached the streets, knocked up the porter at the
hotel where we had stayed before, and were, to our great joy,
safely housed soon afterwards.
We rested but one day at Cincinnati, and then resumed our journey
to Sandusky. As it comprised two varieties of stage-coach
travelling, which, with those I have already glanced at, comprehend
the main characteristics of this mode of transit in America, I will
take the reader as our fellow-passenger, and pledge myself to
perform the distance with all possible despatch.
Our place of destination in the first instance is Columbus. It is
distant about a hundred and twenty miles from Cincinnati, but there
is a macadamised road (rare blessing!) the whole way, and the rate
of travelling upon it is six miles an hour.
We start at eight o'clock in the morning, in a great mail-coach,
whose huge cheeks are so very ruddy and plethoric, that it appears
to be troubled with a tendency of blood to the head. Dropsical it
certainly is, for it will hold a dozen passengers inside. But,
wonderful to add, it is very clean and bright, being nearly new;
and rattles through the streets of Cincinnati gaily.
Our way lies through a beautiful country, richly cultivated, and
luxuriant in its promise of an abundant harvest. Sometimes we pass
a field where the strong bristling stalks of Indian corn look like
a crop of walking-sticks, and sometimes an enclosure where the
green wheat is springing up among a labyrinth of stumps; the
primitive worm-fence is universal, and an ugly thing it is; but the
farms are neatly kept, and, save for these differences, one might
be travelling just now in Kent.
We often stop to water at a roadside inn, which is always dull and
silent. The coachman dismounts and fills his bucket, and holds it
to the horses' heads. There is scarcely ever any one to help him;
there are seldom any loungers standing round; and never any stable-
company with jokes to crack. Sometimes, when we have changed our
team, there is a difficulty in starting again, arising out of the
prevalent mode of breaking a young horse: which is to catch him,
harness him against his will, and put him in a stage-coach without
further notice: but we get on somehow or other, after a great many
kicks and a violent struggle; and jog on as before again.
Occasionally, when we stop to change, some two or three half-
drunken loafers will come loitering out with their hands in their
pockets, or will be seen kicking their heels in rocking-chairs, or
lounging on the window-sill, or sitting on a rail within the
colonnade: they have not often anything to say though, either to
us or to each other, but sit there idly staring at the coach and
horses. The landlord of the inn is usually among them, and seems,
of all the party, to be the least connected with the business of
the house. Indeed he is with reference to the tavern, what the
driver is in relation to the coach and passengers: whatever
happens in his sphere of action, he is quite indifferent, and
perfectly easy in his mind.
The frequent change of coachmen works no change or variety in the
coachman's character. He is always dirty, sullen, and taciturn.
If he be capable of smartness of any kind, moral or physical, he
has a faculty of concealing it which is truly marvellous. He never
speaks to you as you sit beside him on the box, and if you speak to
him, he answers (if at all) in monosyllables. He points out
nothing on the road, and seldom looks at anything: being, to all
appearance, thoroughly weary of it and of existence generally. As
to doing the honours of his coach, his business, as I have said, is
with the horses. The coach follows because it is attached to them
and goes on wheels: not because you are in it. Sometimes, towards
the end of a long stage, he suddenly breaks out into a discordant
fragment of an election song, but his face never sings along with
him: it is only his voice, and not often that.
He always chews and always spits, and never encumbers himself with
a pocket-handkerchief. The consequences to the box passenger,
especially when the wind blows towards him, are not agreeable.
Whenever the coach stops, and you can hear the voices of the inside
passengers; or whenever any bystander addresses them, or any one
among them; or they address each other; you will hear one phrase
repeated over and over and over again to the most extraordinary
extent. It is an ordinary and unpromising phrase enough, being
neither more nor less than 'Yes, sir;' but it is adapted to every
variety of circumstance, and fills up every pause in the
The time is one o'clock at noon. The scene, a place where we are
to stay and dine, on this journey. The coach drives up to the door
of an inn. The day is warm, and there are several idlers lingering
about the tavern, and waiting for the public dinner. Among them,
is a stout gentleman in a brown hat, swinging himself to and fro in
a rocking-chair on the pavement.
As the coach stops, a gentleman in a straw hat looks out of the
STRAW HAT. (To the stout gentleman in the rocking-chair.) I
reckon that's Judge Jefferson, an't it?
BROWN HAT. (Still swinging; speaking very slowly; and without any
emotion whatever.) Yes, sir.
STRAW HAT. Warm weather, Judge.
BROWN HAT. Yes, sir.
STRAW HAT. There was a snap of cold, last week.
BROWN HAT. Yes, sir.
STRAW HAT. Yes, sir.
A pause. They look at each other, very seriously.
STRAW HAT. I calculate you'll have got through that case of the
corporation, Judge, by this time, now?
BROWN HAT. Yes, sir.
STRAW HAT. How did the verdict go, sir?
BROWN HAT. For the defendant, sir.
STRAW HAT. (Interrogatively.) Yes, sir?
BROWN HAT. (Affirmatively.) Yes, sir.
BOTH. (Musingly, as each gazes down the street.) Yes, sir.
Another pause. They look at each other again, still more seriously
BROWN HAT. This coach is rather behind its time to-day, I guess.
STRAW HAT. (Doubtingly.) Yes, sir.
BROWN HAT. (Looking at his watch.) Yes, sir; nigh upon two hours.
STRAW HAT. (Raising his eyebrows in very great surprise.) Yes,
BROWN HAT. (Decisively, as he puts up his watch.) Yes, sir.
ALL THE OTHER INSIDE PASSENGERS. (Among themselves.) Yes, sir.
COACHMAN. (In a very surly tone.) No it an't.
STRAW HAT. (To the coachman.) Well, I don't know, sir. We were a
pretty tall time coming that last fifteen mile. That's a fact.
The coachman making no reply, and plainly declining to enter into
any controversy on a subject so far removed from his sympathies and
feelings, another passenger says, 'Yes, sir;' and the gentleman in
the straw hat in acknowledgment of his courtesy, says 'Yes, sir,'
to him, in return. The straw hat then inquires of the brown hat,
whether that coach in which he (the straw hat) then sits, is not a
new one? To which the brown hat again makes answer, 'Yes, sir.'
STRAW HAT. I thought so. Pretty loud smell of varnish, sir?
BROWN HAT. Yes, sir.
ALL THE OTHER INSIDE PASSENGERS. Yes, sir.
BROWN HAT. (To the company in general.) Yes, sir.
The conversational powers of the company having been by this time
pretty heavily taxed, the straw hat opens the door and gets out;
and all the rest alight also. We dine soon afterwards with the
boarders in the house, and have nothing to drink but tea and
coffee. As they are both very bad and the water is worse, I ask
for brandy; but it is a Temperance Hotel, and spirits are not to be
had for love or money. This preposterous forcing of unpleasant
drinks down the reluctant throats of travellers is not at all
uncommon in America, but I never discovered that the scruples of
such wincing landlords induced them to preserve any unusually nice
balance between the quality of their fare, and their scale of
charges: on the contrary, I rather suspected them of diminishing
the one and exalting the other, by way of recompense for the loss
of their profit on the sale of spirituous liquors. After all,
perhaps, the plainest course for persons of such tender
consciences, would be, a total abstinence from tavern-keeping.
Dinner over, we get into another vehicle which is ready at the door
(for the coach has been changed in the interval), and resume our
journey; which continues through the same kind of country until
evening, when we come to the town where we are to stop for tea and
supper; and having delivered the mail bags at the Post-office, ride
through the usual wide street, lined with the usual stores and
houses (the drapers always having hung up at their door, by way of
sign, a piece of bright red cloth), to the hotel where this meal is
prepared. There being many boarders here, we sit down, a large
party, and a very melancholy one as usual. But there is a buxom
hostess at the head of the table, and opposite, a simple Welsh
schoolmaster with his wife and child; who came here, on a
speculation of greater promise than performance, to teach the
classics: and they are sufficient subjects of interest until the
meal is over, and another coach is ready. In it we go on once
more, lighted by a bright moon, until midnight; when we stop to
change the coach again, and remain for half an hour or so in a
miserable room, with a blurred lithograph of Washington over the
smoky fire-place, and a mighty jug of cold water on the table: to
which refreshment the moody passengers do so apply themselves that
they would seem to be, one and all, keen patients of Dr. Sangrado.
Among them is a very little boy, who chews tobacco like a very big
one; and a droning gentleman, who talks arithmetically and
statistically on all subjects, from poetry downwards; and who
always speaks in the same key, with exactly the same emphasis, and
with very grave deliberation. He came outside just now, and told
me how that the uncle of a certain young lady who had been spirited
away and married by a certain captain, lived in these parts; and
how this uncle was so valiant and ferocious that he shouldn't
wonder if he were to follow the said captain to England, 'and shoot
him down in the street wherever he found him;' in the feasibility
of which strong measure I, being for the moment rather prone to
contradiction, from feeling half asleep and very tired, declined to
acquiesce: assuring him that if the uncle did resort to it, or
gratified any other little whim of the like nature, he would find
himself one morning prematurely throttled at the Old Bailey: and
that he would do well to make his will before he went, as he would
certainly want it before he had been in Britain very long.
On we go, all night, and by-and-by the day begins to break, and
presently the first cheerful rays of the warm sun come slanting on
us brightly. It sheds its light upon a miserable waste of sodden
grass, and dull trees, and squalid huts, whose aspect is forlorn
and grievous in the last degree. A very desert in the wood, whose
growth of green is dank and noxious like that upon the top of
standing water: where poisonous fungus grows in the rare footprint
on the oozy ground, and sprouts like witches' coral, from the
crevices in the cabin wall and floor; it is a hideous thing to lie
upon the very threshold of a city. But it was purchased years ago,
and as the owner cannot be discovered, the State has been unable to
reclaim it. So there it remains, in the midst of cultivation and
improvement, like ground accursed, and made obscene and rank by
some great crime.
We reached Columbus shortly before seven o'clock, and stayed there,
to refresh, that day and night: having excellent apartments in a
very large unfinished hotel called the Neill House, which were
richly fitted with the polished wood of the black walnut, and
opened on a handsome portico and stone verandah, like rooms in some
Italian mansion. The town is clean and pretty, and of course is
'going to be' much larger. It is the seat of the State legislature
of Ohio, and lays claim, in consequence, to some consideration and
There being no stage-coach next day, upon the road we wished to
take, I hired 'an extra,' at a reasonable charge to carry us to
Tiffin; a small town from whence there is a railroad to Sandusky.
This extra was an ordinary four-horse stage-coach, such as I have
described, changing horses and drivers, as the stage-coach would,
but was exclusively our own for the journey. To ensure our having
horses at the proper stations, and being incommoded by no
strangers, the proprietors sent an agent on the box, who was to
accompany us the whole way through; and thus attended, and bearing
with us, besides, a hamper full of savoury cold meats, and fruit,
and wine, we started off again in high spirits, at half-past six
o'clock next morning, very much delighted to be by ourselves, and
disposed to enjoy even the roughest journey.
It was well for us, that we were in this humour, for the road we
went over that day, was certainly enough to have shaken tempers
that were not resolutely at Set Fair, down to some inches below
Stormy. At one time we were all flung together in a heap at the
bottom of the coach, and at another we were crushing our heads
against the roof. Now, one side was down deep in the mire, and we
were holding on to the other. Now, the coach was lying on the
tails of the two wheelers; and now it was rearing up in the air, in
a frantic state, with all four horses standing on the top of an
insurmountable eminence, looking coolly back at it, as though they
would say 'Unharness us. It can't be done.' The drivers on these
roads, who certainly get over the ground in a manner which is quite
miraculous, so twist and turn the team about in forcing a passage,
corkscrew fashion, through the bogs and swamps, that it was quite a
common circumstance on looking out of the window, to see the
coachman with the ends of a pair of reins in his hands, apparently
driving nothing, or playing at horses, and the leaders staring at
one unexpectedly from the back of the coach, as if they had some
idea of getting up behind. A great portion of the way was over
what is called a corduroy road, which is made by throwing trunks of
trees into a marsh, and leaving them to settle there. The very
slightest of the jolts with which the ponderous carriage fell from
log to log, was enough, it seemed, to have dislocated all the bones
in the human body. It would be impossible to experience a similar
set of sensations, in any other circumstances, unless perhaps in
attempting to go up to the top of St. Paul's in an omnibus. Never,
never once, that day, was the coach in any position, attitude, or
kind of motion to which we are accustomed in coaches. Never did it
make the smallest approach to one's experience of the proceedings
of any sort of vehicle that goes on wheels.
Still, it was a fine day, and the temperature was delicious, and
though we had left Summer behind us in the west, and were fast
leaving Spring, we were moving towards Niagara and home. We
alighted in a pleasant wood towards the middle of the day, dined on
a fallen tree, and leaving our best fragments with a cottager, and
our worst with the pigs (who swarm in this part of the country like
grains of sand on the sea-shore, to the great comfort of our
commissariat in Canada), we went forward again, gaily.
As night came on, the track grew narrower and narrower, until at
last it so lost itself among the trees, that the driver seemed to
find his way by instinct. We had the comfort of knowing, at least,
that there was no danger of his falling asleep, for every now and
then a wheel would strike against an unseen stump with such a jerk,
that he was fain to hold on pretty tight and pretty quick, to keep
himself upon the box. Nor was there any reason to dread the least
danger from furious driving, inasmuch as over that broken ground
the horses had enough to do to walk; as to shying, there was no
room for that; and a herd of wild elephants could not have run away
in such a wood, with such a coach at their heels. So we stumbled
along, quite satisfied.
These stumps of trees are a curious feature in American travelling.
The varying illusions they present to the unaccustomed eye as it
grows dark, are quite astonishing in their number and reality.
Now, there is a Grecian urn erected in the centre of a lonely
field; now there is a woman weeping at a tomb; now a very
commonplace old gentleman in a white waistcoat, with a thumb thrust
into each arm-hole of his coat; now a student poring on a book; now
a crouching negro; now, a horse, a dog, a cannon, an armed man; a
hunch-back throwing off his cloak and stepping forth into the
light. They were often as entertaining to me as so many glasses in
a magic lantern, and never took their shapes at my bidding, but
seemed to force themselves upon me, whether I would or no; and
strange to say, I sometimes recognised in them counterparts of
figures once familiar to me in pictures attached to childish books,
forgotten long ago.
It soon became too dark, however, even for this amusement, and the
trees were so close together that their dry branches rattled
against the coach on either side, and obliged us all to keep our
heads within. It lightened too, for three whole hours; each flash
being very bright, and blue, and long; and as the vivid streaks
came darting in among the crowded branches, and the thunder rolled
gloomily above the tree tops, one could scarcely help thinking that
there were better neighbourhoods at such a time than thick woods
At length, between ten and eleven o'clock at night, a few feeble
lights appeared in the distance, and Upper Sandusky, an Indian
village, where we were to stay till morning, lay before us.
They were gone to bed at the log Inn, which was the only house of
entertainment in the place, but soon answered to our knocking, and
got some tea for us in a sort of kitchen or common room, tapestried
with old newspapers, pasted against the wall. The bed-chamber to
which my wife and I were shown, was a large, low, ghostly room;
with a quantity of withered branches on the hearth, and two doors
without any fastening, opposite to each other, both opening on the
black night and wild country, and so contrived, that one of them
always blew the other open: a novelty in domestic architecture,
which I do not remember to have seen before, and which I was
somewhat disconcerted to have forced on my attention after getting
into bed, as I had a considerable sum in gold for our travelling
expenses, in my dressing-case. Some of the luggage, however, piled
against the panels, soon settled this difficulty, and my sleep
would not have been very much affected that night, I believe,
though it had failed to do so.
My Boston friend climbed up to bed, somewhere in the roof, where
another guest was already snoring hugely. But being bitten beyond
his power of endurance, he turned out again, and fled for shelter
to the coach, which was airing itself in front of the house. This
was not a very politic step, as it turned out; for the pigs
scenting him, and looking upon the coach as a kind of pie with some
manner of meat inside, grunted round it so hideously, that he was
afraid to come out again, and lay there shivering, till morning.
Nor was it possible to warm him, when he did come out, by means of
a glass of brandy: for in Indian villages, the legislature, with a
very good and wise intention, forbids the sale of spirits by tavern
keepers. The precaution, however, is quite inefficacious, for the
Indians never fail to procure liquor of a worse kind, at a dearer
price, from travelling pedlars.
It is a settlement of the Wyandot Indians who inhabit this place.
Among the company at breakfast was a mild old gentleman, who had
been for many years employed by the United States Government in
conducting negotiations with the Indians, and who had just
concluded a treaty with these people by which they bound
themselves, in consideration of a certain annual sum, to remove
next year to some land provided for them, west of the Mississippi,
and a little way beyond St. Louis. He gave me a moving account of
their strong attachment to the familiar scenes of their infancy,
and in particular to the burial-places of their kindred; and of
their great reluctance to leave them. He had witnessed many such
removals, and always with pain, though he knew that they departed
for their own good. The question whether this tribe should go or
stay, had been discussed among them a day or two before, in a hut
erected for the purpose, the logs of which still lay upon the
ground before the inn. When the speaking was done, the ayes and
noes were ranged on opposite sides, and every male adult voted in
his turn. The moment the result was known, the minority (a large
one) cheerfully yielded to the rest, and withdrew all kind of
We met some of these poor Indians afterwards, riding on shaggy
ponies. They were so like the meaner sort of gipsies, that if I
could have seen any of them in England, I should have concluded, as
a matter of course, that they belonged to that wandering and
Leaving this town directly after breakfast, we pushed forward
again, over a rather worse road than yesterday, if possible, and
arrived about noon at Tiffin, where we parted with the extra. At
two o'clock we took the railroad; the travelling on which was very
slow, its construction being indifferent, and the ground wet and
marshy; and arrived at Sandusky in time to dine that evening. We
put up at a comfortable little hotel on the brink of Lake Erie, lay
there that night, and had no choice but to wait there next day,
until a steamboat bound for Buffalo appeared. The town, which was
sluggish and uninteresting enough, was something like the back of
an English watering-place, out of the season.
Our host, who was very attentive and anxious to make us
comfortable, was a handsome middle-aged man, who had come to this
town from New England, in which part of the country he was
'raised.' When I say that he constantly walked in and out of the
room with his hat on; and stopped to converse in the same free-and-
easy state; and lay down on our sofa, and pulled his newspaper out
of his pocket, and read it at his ease; I merely mention these
traits as characteristic of the country: not at all as being
matter of complaint, or as having been disagreeable to me. I
should undoubtedly be offended by such proceedings at home, because
there they are not the custom, and where they are not, they would
be impertinencies; but in America, the only desire of a good-
natured fellow of this kind, is to treat his guests hospitably and
well; and I had no more right, and I can truly say no more
disposition, to measure his conduct by our English rule and
standard, than I had to quarrel with him for not being of the exact
stature which would qualify him for admission into the Queen's
grenadier guards. As little inclination had I to find fault with a
funny old lady who was an upper domestic in this establishment, and
who, when she came to wait upon us at any meal, sat herself down
comfortably in the most convenient chair, and producing a large pin
to pick her teeth with, remained performing that ceremony, and
steadfastly regarding us meanwhile with much gravity and composure
(now and then pressing us to eat a little more), until it was time
to clear away. It was enough for us, that whatever we wished done
was done with great civility and readiness, and a desire to oblige,
not only here, but everywhere else; and that all our wants were, in
general, zealously anticipated.
We were taking an early dinner at this house, on the day after our
arrival, which was Sunday, when a steamboat came in sight, and
presently touched at the wharf. As she proved to be on her way to
Buffalo, we hurried on board with all speed, and soon left Sandusky
far behind us.
She was a large vessel of five hundred tons, and handsomely fitted
up, though with high-pressure engines; which always conveyed that
kind of feeling to me, which I should be likely to experience, I
think, if I had lodgings on the first-floor of a powder-mill. She
was laden with flour, some casks of which commodity were stored
upon the deck. The captain coming up to have a little
conversation, and to introduce a friend, seated himself astride of
one of these barrels, like a Bacchus of private life; and pulling a
great clasp-knife out of his pocket, began to 'whittle' it as he
talked, by paring thin slices off the edges. And he whittled with
such industry and hearty good will, that but for his being called
away very soon, it must have disappeared bodily, and left nothing
in its place but grist and shavings.
After calling at one or two flat places, with low dams stretching
out into the lake, whereon were stumpy lighthouses, like windmills
without sails, the whole looking like a Dutch vignette, we came at
midnight to Cleveland, where we lay all night, and until nine
o'clock next morning.
I entertained quite a curiosity in reference to this place, from
having seen at Sandusky a specimen of its literature in the shape
of a newspaper, which was very strong indeed upon the subject of
Lord Ashburton's recent arrival at Washington, to adjust the points
in dispute between the United States Government and Great Britain:
informing its readers that as America had 'whipped' England in her
infancy, and whipped her again in her youth, so it was clearly
necessary that she must whip her once again in her maturity; and
pledging its credit to all True Americans, that if Mr. Webster did
his duty in the approaching negotiations, and sent the English Lord
home again in double quick time, they should, within two years,
sing 'Yankee Doodle in Hyde Park, and Hail Columbia in the scarlet
courts of Westminster!' I found it a pretty town, and had the
satisfaction of beholding the outside of the office of the journal
from which I have just quoted. I did not enjoy the delight of
seeing the wit who indited the paragraph in question, but I have no
doubt he is a prodigious man in his way, and held in high repute by
a select circle.
There was a gentleman on board, to whom, as I unintentionally
learned through the thin partition which divided our state-room
from the cabin in which he and his wife conversed together, I was
unwittingly the occasion of very great uneasiness. I don't know
why or wherefore, but I appeared to run in his mind perpetually,
and to dissatisfy him very much. First of all I heard him say:
and the most ludicrous part of the business was, that he said it in
my very ear, and could not have communicated more directly with me,
if he had leaned upon my shoulder, and whispered me: 'Boz is on
board still, my dear.' After a considerable pause, he added,
complainingly, 'Boz keeps himself very close;' which was true
enough, for I was not very well, and was lying down, with a book.
I thought he had done with me after this, but I was deceived; for a
long interval having elapsed, during which I imagine him to have
been turning restlessly from side to side, and trying to go to
sleep; he broke out again, with 'I suppose THAT Boz will be writing
a book by-and-by, and putting all our names in it!' at which
imaginary consequence of being on board a boat with Boz, he
groaned, and became silent.
We called at the town of Erie, at eight o'clock that night, and lay
there an hour. Between five and six next morning, we arrived at
Buffalo, where we breakfasted; and being too near the Great Falls
to wait patiently anywhere else, we set off by the train, the same
morning at nine o'clock, to Niagara.
It was a miserable day; chilly and raw; a damp mist falling; and
the trees in that northern region quite bare and wintry. Whenever
the train halted, I listened for the roar; and was constantly
straining my eyes in the direction where I knew the Falls must be,
from seeing the river rolling on towards them; every moment
expecting to behold the spray. Within a few minutes of our
stopping, not before, I saw two great white clouds rising up slowly
and majestically from the depths of the earth. That was all. At
length we alighted: and then for the first time, I heard the
mighty rush of water, and felt the ground tremble underneath my
The bank is very steep, and was slippery with rain, and half-melted
ice. I hardly know how I got down, but I was soon at the bottom,
and climbing, with two English officers who were crossing and had
joined me, over some broken rocks, deafened by the noise, half-
blinded by the spray, and wet to the skin. We were at the foot of
the American Fall. I could see an immense torrent of water tearing
headlong down from some great height, but had no idea of shape, or
situation, or anything but vague immensity.
When we were seated in the little ferry-boat, and were crossing the
swollen river immediately before both cataracts, I began to feel
what it was: but I was in a manner stunned, and unable to
comprehend the vastness of the scene. It was not until I came on
Table Rock, and looked - Great Heaven, on what a fall of bright-
green water! - that it came upon me in its full might and majesty.
Then, when I felt how near to my Creator I was standing, the first
effect, and the enduring one - instant and lasting - of the
tremendous spectacle, was Peace. Peace of Mind, tranquillity, calm
recollections of the Dead, great thoughts of Eternal Rest and
Happiness: nothing of gloom or terror. Niagara was at once
stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there,
changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, for ever.
Oh, how the strife and trouble of daily life receded from my view,
and lessened in the distance, during the ten memorable days we
passed on that Enchanted Ground! What voices spoke from out the
thundering water; what faces, faded from the earth, looked out upon
me from its gleaming depths; what Heavenly promise glistened in
those angels' tears, the drops of many hues, that showered around,
and twined themselves about the gorgeous arches which the changing
I never stirred in all that time from the Canadian side, whither I
had gone at first. I never crossed the river again; for I knew
there were people on the other shore, and in such a place it is
natural to shun strange company. To wander to and fro all day, and
see the cataracts from all points of view; to stand upon the edge
of the great Horse-Shoe Fall, marking the hurried water gathering
strength as it approached the verge, yet seeming, too, to pause
before it shot into the gulf below; to gaze from the river's level
up at the torrent as it came streaming down; to climb the
neighbouring heights and watch it through the trees, and see the
wreathing water in the rapids hurrying on to take its fearful
plunge; to linger in the shadow of the solemn rocks three miles
below; watching the river as, stirred by no visible cause, it
heaved and eddied and awoke the echoes, being troubled yet, far
down beneath the surface, by its giant leap; to have Niagara before
me, lighted by the sun and by the moon, red in the day's decline,
and grey as evening slowly fell upon it; to look upon it every day,
and wake up in the night and hear its ceaseless voice: this was
I think in every quiet season now, still do those waters roll and
leap, and roar and tumble, all day long; still are the rainbows
spanning them, a hundred feet below. Still, when the sun is on
them, do they shine and glow like molten gold. Still, when the day
is gloomy, do they fall like snow, or seem to crumble away like the
front of a great chalk cliff, or roll down the rock like dense
white smoke. But always does the mighty stream appear to die as it
comes down, and always from its unfathomable grave arises that
tremendous ghost of spray and mist which is never laid: which has
haunted this place with the same dread solemnity since Darkness
brooded on the deep, and that first flood before the Deluge - Light
- came rushing on Creation at the word of God.
Content of CHAPTER XIV - RETURN TO CINCINNATI. A STAGE-COACH RIDE FROM THAT CITY TO COLUMBUS, AND THENCE TO SANDUSKY. SO, BY LAKE ERIE, TO THE FALLS OF NIAGARA [Charles Dickens' novel: American Notes]
Read next: CHAPTER XV - IN CANADA; TORONTO; KINGSTON; MONTREAL; QUEBEC; ST. JOHN'S. IN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN; LEBANON; THE SHAKER VILLAGE; WEST POINT
Read previous: CHAPTER XIII - A JAUNT TO THE LOOKING-GLASS PRAIRIE AND BACK
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