Grace Greylock Niles.

The Hoosac Valley, its legends and its history online

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From thy summit to the strand.

Where we now thus tread so softly,

In the million years gojie by,
Here the rolling waves have wandered,

Like clouds against the sunrise sky.

Louis Edward Niles, Mount Greylock.

486 The Hoosac Valley

ing the "Giants of the Northwest" capped with a grey-lock
of mist at sunrise or a cloudy nightcap at sunset, christened
the highest summit Grey-Lock' after the frowning chieftain
of the Woronoaks, who wore a grey -lock of hair. From
Lake Onota in Pittsfield, Greylock and Mount Griffin
resemble a gigantic horseman's saddleback 10,000 feet
in length by 600 feet in depth, Hawthorne during his
stage ride from Pittsfield to North Adams, July 26, 1838,^
sat outside with the driver, Piatt, leaving the newly mar-
ried couple inside the coach "to their love-pats and
benign expressions of matrimonial sweetness." Upon
arriving at Adams, Hawthorne inquired the name of the
mountain rising upon his left. Piatt informed him that
"it was a very high hill," known as Greylock, a name which
he greatly preferred to the Pittsfielders' designation of
Saddleback, This is evidently the first record of the name
Greylock for the highest of the Berkshire Hills. Oliver
Wendell Holmes in September, 1850, read a dedicatory poem
at the opening of Pittsfield Cemetery, in which he refers to
the Ragged Mountains about the base of the " Twin- thrones"
of the "Giants of the North" as:

The huge shapes, that crouching at their knees.
Stretch their broad shoulders, rough with shaggy trees.

The savage character of the forests of the lower Hoosac
was described by Mrs, Sigourney of Hartford, in her poem
Schaghticoke and the Knickerbackers. The Irish poet, Thomas
Moore, visited the region during the summer of 1804, and
in his poem of Cohoes Falls was not unmindful of the wood
of pine and the rainbows arching in the sunlit mist above the
leaping waters.

About the same time that Moore visited Cohoes Falls,

'"Greylock Park Reservation," New Eng. Mag., Dec, 191 1,
'Hawthorne, American Note-Book,


488 The Hoosac Valley

Washington Irving, under the assumed name, "Diedrich
Knickerbocker," was writing the legends of Rip Van Winkle
and the Bully Boys of Helderberg Mountains. His Knicker-
bocker's History of New York was published in 1809. Young
Irving formed a life-long friendship with Herman Jansen
Knickerbacker, son of Col. Johannes Knickerbacker 2d.
During Irving's visits to the Old Mansion at Schaghticoke,
it was his delight to listen to Uncle Tom's ghost and witch
tales, and the adventures of Ethan Allen, Ignace Kipp, and
the Yankee schoolmaster, Mallery, of "Spook Hollow" and
Schaghticoke Plains.

The rusty, black coat, olive-velvet breeches, and small
cocked hat of "Grandfather Knick" himself, worn by the
historian, "Diedrich Knickerbocker," together with the
old pigskin-covered chest and saddle-bags of his Friesland
and Masterlandt ancestors were all stern realities to young
Irving and the Knickerbacker boys, who acted charades in
the attic of the "Hostead" on rainy days. Indeed, there
are still stored many quaint relics of the good old manorial
days of Dutch Hoosac.

Irving in his musings on death that appear in the Knicker-
bocker s History of New York says :

Such are my feelings when I visit the family Mansion of
the Knickerbockers, and spend a lonely hour in the chamber
where hang the portraits of my forefathers, shrouded in
dust, like the forms they represent. With pious reverence
do I gaze on the countenances of those renowned burghers,
who have preceded me in the steady march for existence, —
whose sober and temperate blood now meanders through
my veins, flowing slower in its feeble conduits, until its
currents shall soon be stopped forever !

Irving's musings on death, to which Bryant had access
at college, in 1810-1811, may have given him the impetus
for the first draft of Thanatopsis.

Flora's Glen, Williamstown, Massachusetts, known to-day as Thanatopsis
Glen. The poet, William Cullen Bryant, while a Sophomore at Williams, in
1810-1811, is reported to have composed the first draft of his great poem on
Death in this rock-ribbed vale.

Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings.

William Cullen Bryant, Thanatopsis.

490 The Hoosac Valley

Irving's meditations on death, however, were written
in the ' ' narrow house, ' ' in full view of the Schaghticoke and
Knickerbacker burial-field, where the Witenagemot Oak
could send its roots abroad and pierce the mould of the seers
of ages past. Bryant's musings were conducted "under the
open sky" in Flora's Glen, two miles west of Williams
College campus. He says :

"When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart; —
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings.

Irving, beholding the portraits of his forefathers on the
walls of his silent chamber in the Knickerbacker Mansion,

These, I say to myself, are but frail memorials of the
worthy men who flourished in the days of the patriarchs,
but who, alas, have long since mouldered in the tomb toward
which my steps are insensibly and irresistibly hastening.
Carried away by the delusions of my fancy, I almost imagine
myself surrounded by the shades of the departed, and hold-
ing sweet converse with the worthies of antiquity.

It was believed that Irving in 1808 had the dread disease,
consumption. He later visited England for his health.
The poet, Bryant, closes Thanatopsis with a measured strain
similar to that of Irving:

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down


492 The Hoosac Valley

With patriarchs of the infant world — with kings,
The powerful of the earth — the wise, the good
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre . . .

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

During Bryant's sojourn of seven months at Williams
College, his room-mate, John Avery, accompanied him on
long walks to all the glens, water-falls, and historic battle-
fields in the Valley. The poet, in a satire entitled Descriptio
Gulielmopolis, written during the spring of 1811, confesses
that :

Amid these vales I touched the lyre,
Where devious Hoosac rolls his floods. ^

In his poem Green River, he describes the stream with its
waters of green, and colored pebbles and sparkles of light.
His Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood pictures Flora's

The mossy rocks themselves.
And the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees
That lead from knoll to knoll a causey rude

Or bridge the sunken brook.


The first drafts of Thanatopsis, Earth, Hymn to Death,
and many other poems are believed to have been made in
Flora's Glen by Bryant between October, i8io,andMay, 181 1.
The hallowed shrine is known as Thanatopsis Glen, located
at the foot of "Bee Hill," near the entrance to Hemlock
Glen Road. Charles Woodbury once accompanied Ralph
Waldo Emerson to the spot and remarked that "it was a

' Perry, Williamstown and Williams College, pp. 340-341.

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Online LibraryGrace Greylock NilesThe Hoosac Valley, its legends and its history → online text (page 33 of 41)