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Nathaniel Parker Willis.

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RURAL LETTERS



AND OTHER RECORDS OF



THOUGHT AT LEISURE,




WRITTEN IN THE



INTERVALS OF MORE HURRIED LITERARY LABOR,




'



'ARKER WILLIS,



THE VOLUME CONTAINS "LETTERS FROM UNDER A BRIDGE/' " OPE1*
AIR MUSINGS IN THE CITY," " INVALID RAMBLES IN GER-
MANY," " LETTERS FROM WATERING-PLACES," ETC.



" The forcing-garden, with its snowy roof
Shuts off the snow-quilt, and, of timely sleep,
Robs the sun-weary soil. In costly flowers
The o'ertasked juices languish to the sun,
And fragrantly breathe thro' the bright-dyed lips
Till. the rich bloom seems Nature's. But, when Spring
Leaves the worn hot-bed idle, and the winds
Of summor with the cooling dews stray in,
The gla/ soil joyfully its trick unlearns,
And, in pale violets and daisies small,
Bre>- nes its mere bliss in sunshine."



AUBURN AND ROCHESTER:
ALDEN AND BEARDSLET.
1850.



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1 849, by
BAKER AND SCRIBNER,

In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, fcr tha
Southern District of New- York.



Bencroft



DEDICATORY LETTER.



TO IMOGEN.

M\ r SWEET DAUGHTER I

The Letters in this volume which describe your birthplace-
mere pulse-countings as they are, in the way of literary records
should ' *e dedicated to you, if printed at all ; and I had therefore
written your name after the title-page just ready for tne press.
A joyous laugh from you, at play with your doll in an adjoining
room, reached my ear a moment since, however, and suggested
to me the time that must elapse before you could read so un-
eventful a book understandingly, and the necessity there would
be, even then, that the circumstances under which it was written
should be somewhat explained to you. I felt as a man fond of
his grounds might do, who should see his favorite tree judged of
by a single view at noon a wish that it might be seen, also, with
the shadows falling earlier and later. The interest with which
these simple letters from Glenmary may be read by you, must
depend much upon your knowing over what ground, in my own
mind, this brief passage of my life threw its influences. If I had
any of that instinctive feeling, which we sometimes vaguely trust,
that I should be here, when you are grown to womanhood, to
my to you what I have taken my pen to writ*, I should still let



Vl TO IMOGEN.

the dedication, of this least-labored yet favorite volume, to my
beloved child, stand simply with her name.

At the tune of your birth, I had lived four years at Glenmaiy ;
and when pacing the walk in front of my cottage, beneath the
stars of a night of June I heard your first faint cry, I recog-
nized, in my tearful thanks to God, that a drop was overflowingly
added, to a cup of happiness already swelling to the brim. For
enjoyment of the rural life I found so delightful, I had, it is true,
made somewhat the preparation with which one sleeps in a house
that the haunting of some nameless spirit has made untenantable
by others searching first, with the candle of experience, every
apartment besides the one I intended to occupy. I had tried life
in every shape which, if left untried, might fret imagination. I
had studied human nature under all the changes which can be
wrought by differences of climate, rank, culture and association.
My demands, for happiness, had closed in and concentrated upon
my own heart, the farther I went and the more changes I tried.
I came to Glenmary, absolute in my conviction that I brought
with me, or could receive there, from God, all the material requi-
site for my best enjoyment of existence. In my five years' trial
of this upshot of experiments in happiness, every hour wedded
my love to it more strongly. Even the anxiety with which the
loss of our small competency clouded the first year that the sweet
tfcread of your life was braided through even that harsh trouble,
and the disasters and broken reliances which followed close upon
its heels, and finally drove me back to the life I had rejected,
failed to touch, while I could cling to the hope of remaining there,
the essential elements of my endearment to that calm paradise.
Misfortune, that changes the looks of men, my dear Imogen, leaves



TO IMOGEN. Vii

he stars looking as kindly down, and the trees and flowers an-
swering the eye as unreluctantly.

You can understand, from this, how, in the life pictured in
these letters, lay a frame- work of nurture for yourself t the much
pondered promises of which were the ties hardest to sunder. In
all my observation of your sex, I had so learned the value of
character formed under the influences of refined rural life, and
taking its thought-pressure and guidance, meantime, from those
minds, only, over which God has breathed the awe of parental
responsibility. The impressible and flexible nature of woman so
requires, for the preservation of its individuality, an isolation from
the mixed influences and assimilating observances of a city. A
dew-drop, given to the exhaling sun with its rounded pearl-shape
unswayed but by breath from Heaven, and another, shaken from
its leaf-shelter, and flung into a stream to flow on and waste, un-
distinguishable from turbid waters, are not more different in
purity and beauty, than the same character may be made by
these differences of nurture. Glenmary, after your birth, seemed
to me to have been fore-chosen by my good angel, as the cradle
and nursery I should want for you. With images of my fair
child, tossing her sunny locks in unschooled grace to the wind, I
had peopled all the wild wood-walks above the brook ; the lawns
and fields along the river were play-grounds and rambling places
for a blue-eyed and infantile type of an angel mother ; the trees
seemed spreading their shadows in conscious preparation; the
shrubs were planted to keep pace with her growth ; and my own
onward life so cheered and beguiled, so graced and supplied
with sweetest company and occupation was forecast in a far-
welcomed future. Do you not see how, without knowledge of



fill TO IMOGEN.



these dream-peoplings, you could scarce read my portrayings, of
that relinquished life, with a full understanding of my value
of it?

This five years' oasis of country existence, gave shape and force
to another sentiment that has always struggled within me, and,
(fancy-pricing of my saleable commodities though it seem,) I will
venture to mention it for, in imagining you as reading this
volume, by-and-by, it is a view of myself that I like to think may
grow out of the perusal. I scarce know how to express it, how-
ever ; for, sure as I am of conveying the feeling of every man
who has ever parcelled his free thoughts into " goods and groce-
ries," it is difficult to phrase without misconveyance of meaning.
If you have ever seen a field of broom- corn the most careless
branching and free swaying of all the products of a summer
and can fancy the contrast, in its destiny, between sweeping the
pure air with the wind's handling, and sweeping what it more
usefully may, when tied up for handling as brooms, you can un-
derstand the difference I feel, between using my thoughts at my
pleasure, as in country life, and using them for subsistence as in
my present profession. How much, and what quality, of an
author, I might have been from choice, the tone of these Letters,
I mean to say, very nearly expresses. I do not intend any com
parative disparagement of what I have written upon compulsion
The hot needle through the eye of the goldfinch betters his sing
ing, they say. Only separate, if with this hint you can, what I
have done as mental toil, from what I might have written had J
been a thought-free farmer, with books, country leisure, and lib
erty to pick, with the perspective bettering of second though'
from the brain's many-mooded vagaries.



TO IMOGEN. ix

A man may be excused for wishing not to be misrepresented
to his child, and I have thus tried to make certain that my
own writings, at least, shall speak truly of me to my daughter.
The perversions and misrepresentations which follow and bark at
one's progress, as curs chase a rail-train through a village street,
I have no need to guard against, for they will be outrun and
silenced if I am gone from you when you read this harmless, of
course, if I am here. And now, my little unconscious target, this
arrow of twelve years' flight must be sped from the string ; and,
with a kiss, presently, of which you will be far from knowing the
meaning or the devotion, I will imprint a prayer upon your fore-
head that the shaft may find the heart it is aimed at, as well
watched over and as blest as now, whether the bow that sent it
be still bent or broken.

Affectionately,

N. P. WILLIS.

March, 1849.



CONTENTS.

LETTERS FROM UNDER A BRIDGE.



LETTER I.

Brook-hollow of Glemnary Place to write Rural companions Owa-
ga creek Farmer's life Oxen remembered. ... 17-24

LETTER II.

Assessor's visit Bridge furniture Rustic's soliloquy Where are we
alone? Simile of Talleyrand The beauties of country life
Amende honorable The oriole Dog-wood tree Society of trees
Drawback of city life. 25-32

LETTER III.

Education neglected Available knowledge Tenantry of trees Start
for fishing Compulsion of talk Influences of Nature. - - 33-40

LETTER IV.

Attar-merchant of Constantinople Bartlett, the scenist Mental tra-
vel Moneyless millennium Intellectual age Trout fishing
Baiting with a worm The first trout Similarity of country to city
life. 41-50

LETTER V.

Hay-making Meadow scenery Sprague, the poet Poets and finan-
ciers What is genius ? Lord Durham and D'Israeli Upholstery of
sunsets. 51-69



CONTENTS.



LETTER VI.

Invitation to the country Avon Springs Narrows of the Susquehan-

na h Mr. Capability Brown Taste as a profession Inn on the Sus-

quehannah Wealth unclaimed An heiress. - - - - 6( . /

LETTER VII.

Early reviewing Hotel life Scenery of the Chemung Homes of
of genius. - - 68-77

LETTER VIII.
A chance call Listeners wanted Adopted by a cur. - - 78-84

LETTER IX.

Estimate of criticism Newness of impressions Growing gracefully
old. 85-91

LETTER X.

Harvesting Good phrases The Oinega Grove planting The lin-
den-tree Forest sculpture. - - - - - - - 92-98

LETTER XI.

Old man's Utopia Newspaper fugitives Sounds of Nature and
cities Bird music Modified benevolence. - ... 99-105

LETTER XII.

Seclusion, in a prospect Steam-posting Travelling cottage Route
of the Susquehannah to the Springs Love of sunshine "Wade's
Poems Epithalamium. 106-113

LETTER XIII.

Visit from an artist Log-burning- Campbell and Wyoming Justice
to authors Dawes as a poet American estimate of English au-
thorsWalter Savage Landor Error unconnected. - - 114-123

LETTER XIV.

Country fashionableness Lumbering Raftsmen of the Susquehan-
nah Of the Delaware Autumnal changes. .... 124-13P



CONTENTS.



LETTER XV.

Steamboating on the Susquehannah Sites for villas Raft running
Search for lodgings Chance bedfellow Wyoming. 181-189

LETTER XVI.

Magazine writers Advantage of criticism Literary fairness Uni-
versality of English literature American rehearsal of fame Social
relation to England. 140-146

LETTER XVII.

Autumn scenery City visitation Wane of dandies Criticisms of
manners Cemeteries. ....... 147-154

LETTER XVIII.

Streams run faster at night Shopping in the country Portraits
from a barn Riddance of nuisance Weather, as to dignity. - 156-162

LETTER XIX.

Dickens International copyright The "Boz ball" Mrs. Dickens
Speed of travel Metropolitan hotels Greenough's statue of Wash-
ington Chapman's painting House of Representatives Philadel-
phia. 168-174

LETTER XX.

Landscape gardening Selection of farms Value of neighbors Econ-
omy of seclusion Dress hi the country Grounds and shrubbery
Cheap walks Cottage insoucieuse True country freedom. - 175-187

LETTER XXI.

tlarket for poetry Farming and authorship City residence Subsist-
ence of authors Uses of faults Young poets, ' * 188-197



THE FOUR RIVERS.

IAQ Hudson The Mohawk The Chenango The Susquehannah. 1 98-206



xiy CONTENTS.

LETTER

TO THE UNKNOWN PURCHASER AND NEXT OCCUPANT OF GLENMARY.

Beauties of Glenmary Spare the trees The venerable toad Favorite
squirrels Spare the birds. .. \., ; .. v - - - - 207-212



GLENMARY POEMS.

THOUGHTS WHILE MAKING THE GRAVE OF A NEW-BORN CHILD. 215

THE MOTHER TO HER CHILD. - 218

A THOUGHT OVER A CRADLE. - ..... 220

THE INVOLUNTARY PRAYER OF HAPPINESS. 222



OPEN-AIR MUSINGS IN THE CITY.

Daguerreotype of Broadway Spring in the city A day of idling The
Battery, as a promenade The wharves on Sunday Sabbath
walk Confined life "Want of horses Substitute for a private
yacht Omnibus luxury Deferrings of sorrow Griefs recurren-
-Evanescent impressions. '- - - - - - 225-252



INVALID RAMBLES IN GERMANY,
IN THE SUMMER OF 1845.

Leipsic cemetery - Funeral customs German friendship Hearing
with the eye Deaf and dumb tutor German inattention to health
Leipsic conservatory Musical composition Music, in education
Concentration of coughing Private boxes in church Goethe's drink-
ing-cellar Napoleorfs tent Battle field of Leipsic Poniatow-
ski The Fair of Leipsic Apple market Theatrical and show-
booths Wadded clothing Pipe celebrity Garter poetry Re-
source of smoking Jewish costumes Disguise of beards Good
middle-aged caps Hungarian peddlers German students Mere



CONTENTS. XV



keepers-warm Visit to Dresden Women harnessed in carts-
Royal palace Manufacture of porcelain Museum of china His-
torical museum Mnemonics for history Madonna del Sisto
Museum of beauty Strauss's concert Tieck's house German
substitutes for tea and coffee Fair at Dresden Supplementary
coat-tails Terrace of Bruhl Berlin. 253-305



LETTERS FROM WATERING-PLACES.

LETTER I.

Sharon Springs Hotel Sulphur bathing Indians and their em-
ployments. .... 809-313

LETTER II.

Posthumous revenges Visit to Cooperstown Cherry Valley Deriva-
tion of its name Otsego Lake Source of the Susquehannah Fen-
imore Cooper His residence Drive along the lake. - - 814-323

LETTER III.

Lake Ut-say-an-tha The Kobleskill Novel style of architecture
Kobleskill graves. 324-328

LETTER IV.
Sharon convalescence Indian belle Society at Sharoa - - 829-833

LETTER V.

Trenton Falls Day at Albany Anecdote of Morse Valley of the
Mohawk. 834-336

LETTER VI.

Drive to Trenton Falls Seclusion of the place American propensity
for white paint Landlord's taste Company at Trenton Female
invasion Witty inscription. 387-344



xvi CONTENTS.



LETTER VII.

Geological age of Trenton Falls Fossils and foreigners Description
of the Falls. - - - . - ^~ v * - . * - - - 845-349

LETTER VIII.

Co?tume heightens perspective Military tableau vivant Fashion
of hats for the Falls The Falls by moonlight Poetical simili-
tude Baron de Trobriand. 850-857



A PLAIN MAN'S LOVE:

A STORY WITHOUT INCIDENT, WETTTEN IN THE LEISURE OF ILLNESS. 859-880



LETTERS

FROM UNDER A BRIDGE



LETTEK I.

MY DEAR DOCTOR: Twice in the year, they say, the farmer
may sleep late in the morning between hoeing and haying, and
between harvest and thrashing. If I have not written to you
since the frost was out of the ground, my apology lies distributed
over the " spring- work," in due proportions among ploughing,
harrowing, sowing, plastering, and hoeing. We have finished
the last some thanks to the crows, who saved us the labor of
one acre of com, by eating it in the blade. Think what tunes we
live in, when even the crows are obliged to anticipate their in-
come!

When I had made up my mind to write to you, I cast about
for a cool place in the shade for, besides the changes which
farming works upon my epidermis, I find some in the inner man,
one of which is a vegetable necessity for living out-of-doors.
Between five in the morning and " flower-shut," I feel as if four
walls and a ceiling would stop my breath. Very much to the
disgust of William, (who begins to think it was infra dig. to



18 LETTER I.

have followed such a hob-nail from London,) I showed the first
symptom of this chair-and-carpet asthma, by ordering my break-
fast under a balsam-fir. Dinner and tea soon followed; and
now, if I go in-doors by daylight, it is a sort of fireman's visit
in and out with a long breath. I have worn quite a dial on the
grass, working my chair around with the sun.

" If ever you observed," (a phrase with which a neighbor of
mine ludicrously prefaces every possible remark,) a single tree
will do very well to sit, or dine, or be buried under, but you can
not write in the shade of it. Beside the sun-flecks and the light
all around you, there is a want of that privacy, which is neces-
sary to a perfect abandonment to pen and ink. I discovered
this on getting as far as " dear Doctor," and, pocketing my tools,
strolled away up the glen to borrow " stool and desk " of Nature.
Half-open, like a broad-leafed book, (green margin and silver
type,) the brook-hollow of Glenmary spreads wide as it drops
upon the meadow, but above, like a book that deserves its fair
margent, it deepens as you proceed. Not far from the road, its
little rivulet steals forth from a shadowy ravine, narrow as you
enter, then widening back to a mimic cataract ; and here, a child
would say, is fairy parlor. A small platform (an island when
the stream is swollen) lies at the foot of the fall, carpeted with
the fine silky grass which thrives with shade and spray. The
two walls of the ravine are mossy, and trickling with springs ;
the trees overhead interlace, to keep out the sun ; and down
comes the brook, over a flight of precipitous steps, like children
bursting out of school, and, after a laugh at its own tumble, it
falls again into a decorous ripple, and trips murmuring away
The light is green, the leaves of the overhanging trees look trans



THE BROOK HOLLOW 19



lucent above, and the wild blue grape, with its emerald rings,
has wove all over it a basket-lattice so fine, that you would think
it were done to order warranted to keep out the hawk, and let
in the humming-bird. With a yellow pine at my back, a moss
cushion beneath, and a ledge of flat stone at my elbow, you will
allow I had a secretary's outfit. I spread my paper, and mended
my pen ; and then (you will pardon me, dear Doctor) I forgot
you altogether! The truth is, these fanciful garnishings spoil
work. Silvio Pellico had a better place to write in. If it had
been a room with a Chinese paper, (a bird standing forever on
one leg, and a tree ruffled by the summer wind, and fixed with
its leaves on edge, as if petrified with the varlet's impudence,)
the eye might get accustomed to it. But first came a gold-robin,
twittering out his surprise to find strange company in his parlor,
yet never frighted from his twig by pen and ink. By the time I
had sucked a lesson out of that, a squirrel tripped in without
knocking, and sat nibbling at a last-year's nut, as if nobody but
he took thought for the morrow. Then came an enterprising
ant, climbing my knee like a discoverer ; and I wondered whether
Fernando Cortes would have mounted so boldly, had the peak
of Darien been as new-dropped between the Americas, as my
leg by his ant-hill. By this time, a small dripping from a moss-
fringe at my elbow betrayed the lip of a spring ; and, dislodging
a stone, I uncovered a brace of lizards lying snug in the ooze.
We flatter ourselves, thought I, that we drink first of the spring.
We do not know, always, whose lips were before us.

Much as you see of insect life, and hear of bird-music, as you
walk abroad, you should lie perdu in a nook, to know how much
is frighted from sight, and hushed from singing, by your approach.



20 LETTER I.



What worms creep out when they think you gone, and what
chatterers go on with their story ! So among friends, thought I,
as I fished for the moral. We should be wiser, if we knew what
our coming hides and silences, but should we walk so undis-
turbed on our way ?

You will see with half a glance, dear Doctor, that here was
too much company for writing. I screwed up my inkstand once
more, and kept up the bed of the stream till it enters the forest,
remembering a still place by a pool. The tall pines hold up the
roof high as an umbrella of Brobdignag, and neither water brawls,
nor small birds sing, in the gloom of it. Here, thought I, as far
as they go, the circumstances are congenial. But, as Jean Paul
says, there is a period of life when the real gains ground upon
the ideal ; and to be honest, dear Doctor, I sat leaning on the
shingle across my knees, counting my sky-kissing pines, and
reckoning what they would bring in saw-logs so much stand-
ing so much drawn to the mill. Then there would be wear and
tear of bob-sled, teamster's wages, and your dead-pull springs,
the horses' knees. I had nearly settled the per and contra, when
my eye lit once more on " my dear Doctor," staring from the un-
filled sheet, like the ghost of a murdered resolution. " Since
when," I asked, looking myself sternly in the face ; " is it so diffi-
cult to be virtuous ? Shall I not write when I have a mind ?
Shall I reckon pelf, whether I will or no ? Shall butterfly ima-
gination thrust iron-heart to the wall ? No !"

I took a straight cut through my ruta-baga patch and cornfield,
bent on finding some locality (out of doors it must be) with the
average attractions of a sentry-box, or a church-pew. I reached
the high-road, making insensibly for a brush dam, where I should



PLACE TO WRITE. 21



sit upon a log, with my face abutted upon a wall of chopped
saplings. I have not mentioned my dog, who had followed me
cheerfully thus far, putting up now and then a partridge, to keep
his nose in ; but, on coming to the bridge over the brook, he
made up his mind. " My master," he said, (or looked,) " will
neither follow the game, nor sit in the cool. Clwcun a son gout.
I'm tired of this bobbing about for nothing in a hot sun." So,
dousing his tail, (which, " if you ever observed," a dog hoists, as
a flag-ship does her pennant, only when the commodore is aboard,)
he sprung the railing, and spread himself for a snooze under the
bridge. " Ben trovato /" said I, as I seated myself by his side.
He wagged his tail half round to acknowledge the compliment,
and I took to work like a hay-maker.

I have taken some pains to describe these difficulties to you,
dear Doctor, partly because I hold it to be fair, in this give-and-
take world, that a man should know what it costs his fellow to
fulfil obligations, but more especially, to apprise you of the
metempsychose that is taking place in myself. You will have
divined, ere this, that, in my out-of-doors life, I am approaching
a degree nearer to Arcadian perfectibility, and that if I but
manage to get a bark on and live by sap, (spare your wit, sir !) I
shall be rid of much that is troublesome, not to say expensive, in
the matters of drink and integument. What most surprises me in
the past, is, that I ever should have confined my free soul and
body, in the very many narrow places and usages I have known
in towns. I can only assimilate myself to a squirrel, brought up
in a school-boy's pocket, and let out some June morning on a
snake fence.

The spring has been damp for corn, but I had planted on a



22 LETTER I

warm hillside, and have done better than my neighbors. The
Owaga* creek, which makes a bend round my meadow before it
drops into the Susquehannah (a swift, bright river the Owagn,
with as much water as the Arno at Florence) overflowed my
cabbages and onions, in the May freshet ; but that touches neither
me nor my horse. The winter wheat looks like " velvet of three-
oile," and everything is out of the ground, including, in my case,
;he buckwheat, which is not yet put in. This is to be an old-
fashioned hot summer, and I shall sow late. The peas are pod-
ded. Did it ever strike you, by the way, that the pious ^Eneas,
famous through all ages for carrying old Anchises a mile, should,
after all, yield glory - to a lean. Perhaps you never observed,
that this filial esculent grows up with his father on his back.

In my " new light," a farmer's life seems to me what a manu-
facturer's might resemble, if his factory were an indigenous plant
machinery, girls, and all. What spindles and fingers it would
take to make an orchard, if Nature found nothing but the raw
seed, and rain-water and sunshine were brought as far as a cotton
bale ! Your despised cabbage would be a prime article if you
had to weave it. Pumpkins, if they ripened with a hair-spring
and patent lever, would be, " by'r lady," a curious invention.
Yet these, which Aladdin nature produces if we but " rub the



Online LibraryNathaniel Parker WillisRural letters and other records of thought at leisure / written in the intervals of more hurried literary labor → online text (page 1 of 25)