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sublimity. It has been calculated that the water-power



6o Niagara.



of the Niagara river is sufficient to impel all the exist-
ing machinery in the world, and it is said that possibly
before many years this region will be crowded with
manufactories. Good news for those admirers of
scenery who think that ideas of beauty are founded
on utility !

A short bridge lands you on Goat Island, which has
an area of sixty acres, and is about a mile in circum-
ference. Let us walk round it, a walk unsurpassed,
and absolutely unique. Curbing our impatience to
see the Grand Fall, let us turn to the left and walk
along a path parallel to the Rapids. The branches of
the overhanging trees are dripping with the spray.
Here and there we go to the very brink and stand on
the rocks, round and partially over which the wild
waters are surging. Presently the shore curves round
to the right, and we stand on the upper angle of the
island. The stream along which we have ascended,
majestic as it seemed, is now forgotten in the mighty
river of which it forms but a minor portion. What a
wondrous scene is presented before us ! The whole
flood of the Niagara — upwards of a mile broad — is
coming down upon us as if it would sweep away the
island on which we stand, as it doubtless is doing by



The Falls. 6 1



degrees. The banks on both sides are level, and
covered with forests, with houses and villages here
and there. Continuing our tour round the island, we
are now walking on the bank of the greater branch of
the river, downwards, towards the Fall. Presently we
come to the first important rapid, consisting of a cas-
cade of about six feet in height extending all across
the river. When once a boat is drawn as far as this,
all hope is gone. Beyond this spot the stream is a
scene of the wildest confusion. We now approach
some small islands called the "Three Sisters." They
are rocks rising a few feet above the stream, clothed
with mosses and flowers, and crowned with the most
beautiful forest trees. Round these islands the
current roars with appalling fury. The contrast is
very striking between the exquisite beauty, security,
and repose of that foliage, and the wild, angry, roar-
ing, ever-changing torrents which rush past them to
plunge over the precipice below.

These islands have their legends. In 1841, a
Mr. Allen, rowing himself across the river a mile or
two above, broke an oar and was carried down the
stream. He tried to steer to the point of Goat Island,
but missed his mark, and was hurried on to the



62 Niagara.



cataract. His boat did not capsize, but was swiftly
shooting past one of these islets. He' knew this was
his only chance, and by springing from the boat, safely
reached the land, whence he was rescued next day.

The " Hermit" of Niagara was a young man named
Francis Abbott, from Plymouth, Devonshire, who
came here in 1839, and, charmed with the scene,
lived for two years in a log-hut, shunning intercourse
with men, and giving no account of himself. A little
cataract between us and the nearest of the Sisters,
called " Moss Island," is known as the " Hermit's
Cascade," from its having been his bathing-place. He
was always wandering about the region, seeking the
most dangerous places. Often in moonlight he has
been observed pacing up and down a piece of timber,
which then projected several feet beyond the precipice,
apparently unconscious of danger. At length he was
drowned while bathing just below the Fall. Nothing
was found in his hut but his books and his violin. His
only companion — a faithful dog — still guarded the door.

We now approach the great cataract. The river,
still increasing in rapidity, but less broken, settles
down deep, silent, solemn, resolute, in preparation for
its final plunge. At every step we take, the thunder



The Falls. 63



of the Fall is louder and the misty shower more
dense. Clouds of foam are flung upward to the sky
from the deep chasm down into which the mighty
floods are pouring. We feel the solid rock on which
we stand tremble. No adequate description of the
scene is possible. No pen, no pencil can pourtray it.
Who can paint the motion of that torrent as it
plunges into that abyss, or the whirling clouds of foam,
with the rainbow, so radiant amidst the gloom, so
tranquil in the tumult ? And how can the accompani-
ment of that majestic thunder be given ?

We were overwhelmed with a sense of majesty and
awe. We might have fancied we heard the command,
" Take off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place
whereon thou standest is holy ground." We were
within the most solemn of Nature's temples ; where
the sublimest service, the most imposing ritual, was
being performed in honour of the Creator; where
sacrifice was ever being presented on an altar from
which the curling spray was ever ascending to meet
and blend with the awful overhanging cloud, which
seemed, as of old, the visible symbol of Jehovah's
presence ; and where the grandest psalm was ever
swelling in praise of the glory and greatness of the



64 Niagara.



Eternal. Other temples have disappeared, but this
has remained through many millenniums. Other ser-
vices are interrupted, but this continues without inter-
mission — day and night, century by century, its priests
unwearied, its voices never mute. " The floods have
lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice ;
the floods lift up their waves. The Lord on high is
mightier than the noise of many waters."

We cannot linger here now. We have seen enough
for to-day. There is a limit beyond which the mind
cannot receive impressions. It is so with joy and
with grief. There are times when nothing can make
us happier, and times also when no fresh tidings of
calamity can deepen our sorrow. So, in looking at
works of art, the eye and mind may be satiated, and
we turn from the noblest picture with weariness. And
so with scenery, especially when it excites our wonder,
and in proportion to our appreciation of it. How
glad I felt that I had more than a week in reserve !
To rush at such a scene, hurry round it, and glance
only at its main features ; or to be compelled, because
no other opportunity will occur, to examine it in
detail when body and mind are jaded by having seen
and felt too much, and repose is needed to qualify for



The Falls. 65



any due contemplation of it — this scarcely qualifies
us to say we have seen it. It is not surprising that
such visitors to great scenes of Nature, or great works
of Art, sometimes say they are disappointed.

Late in the evening I strolled out to " View Point,"
to see the Falls in the moonlight. Presently, two
gentleman and a lady approached, gazing on the
scene as if they thoroughly appreciated it. Availing
myself of American freedom I ventured to join them,
in the hope of gaining information or pleasant com-
panionship. I found they were negroes of the darkest
dye. One man seemed about forty years of age ; the
other was considerably younger, and treated him with
much deference. The elder man supported the arm
of the woman, showing her every respectful attention,
guarding her from danger while courteously pointing
out the features of the scene. She was the ugliest
specimen of her race I had ever met. There was
apparently no mark of intelligence in her counte-
nance. She did not utter a word, and I uncharit-
ably thought this was well, as nothing worth hearing
could proceed from such a mouth.

The elder negro, in very pure English, with good
accent, informed me that he had lived more than

F



66 Niagara.



twelve years near the Falls, and that he generally
came when there was a moon, to observe the lunar
rainbow. He replied in an intelligent and scientific
manner to numerous inquiries, and told many thril-
ling tales of incidents which had occurred at the Falls
within his personal knowledge. One morning, coming
early over to Goat Island, he saw a man clinging to a
piece of timber which had become jammed in a rock
in the midst of the Rapids, about a quarter of a mile
from the cataract. He had been carried down the
current in a boat, which had capsized. Many persons
were soon on the bank, eager to render help. A boat
was launched, so that the current might carry it down
to the man ; but the rope attached to it got entangled
in the rocks, and rendered it useless. A lifeboat was
then sent for from Buffalo. Meanwhile, crowds ga-
thered from every quarter, and the excitement was
intense, as they watched the poor man clinging for pre-
cious life to his plank, in danger every moment of being
dashed from his refuge, and hurried down. The lifeboat
at length arrived ; but the rapids rolled it over and
over, and it was at once useless. Then a raft was
made and floated to him. No voice could reach him,
owing to the roar of the water • so a large board was



The Falls. 67



brought, on which were written in chalk, directions
for his guidance. Obeying these, he tied himself on
to the raft ; but alas ! the rope caught amongst the
rocks, and the raft, round which the angry waves
roared as if hungry for their prey, could be drawn
no farther. Another boat was now obtained and
sent down the current ; but in his eagerness, he too
hastily unfastened himself, in order to spring into
the boat, which struck the raft, and jerked him into
the stream. The moment he touched the water he
was hurried downwards with headlong speed. My
informant ran along the bank, and saw him striving in
vain to gain a small island in the mid-channel. He
was then whirled helplessly about, and just before he
came to the verge was lifted up into the air, and, with
arms flung out, was hurled backward into the foaming
abyss. A young man, who had hurried many miles
to the scene, came up breathless just as he was swept
off the raft. It was his brother.

One day a party of friends went to Luna Island, one of
whom, laying hold of a little girl, his niece, told her in
fun that he would throw her in. Terrified by his foolish,
and, in such circumstances, wicked joke, the child
gave a sudden start, fell into the water, and, in one



68 Niagara.



instant, was whirled over. The man jumped after
her, and also disappeared immediately. The body of
the child was soon found, but not that of the young
man. Then they diverted that part of the current by
a dam, sending it over more towards the American
side, and thus the body was recovered from the rocks
below. On hearing this the younger negro said, —
" But could they do such a thing as turn Niagara? "
To which his companion replied, with emphasis, —
" Oh yes, man can do anything he tries."

The conversation then turned on the condition and
prospects of the negro race. I told them how the
great mass of the British nation understood from the
first that the triumph of the North would be the de-
liverance of the slave ; how much we had felt for them
in their bondage, and prayed and laboured, as far as
we could, in their behalf; and how we thanked God
for their emancipation. It was now midnight. I
wished them good night, and shook hands. Then the
woman, at length breaking silence said : — " Good
night, sir ; may the Lord reward and bless you, sir ;
and when you die — but you won't die — may you go to
be with Jesus." And so we parted. I felt con-
demned, and yet glad. Truly I was taught, as St. Peter



The Falls. 69



was of old, when likely to hesitate about visiting a
Gentile, not to regard any one as common or unclean ;
and I felt that it was almost worth while crossing the
Atlantic to get that benediction from a liberated slave,
which I received, not as given to myself, but as sent
to all my countrymen who have felt and prayed and
laboured for the long-oppressed African race.

We found the truth of a universal experience — that
the longer Niagara is contemplated the more wonder-
ful it appears. " It grows upon you." The immen-
sity of the volume of water precipitated over that rock
can only be appreciated by degrees. Some waterfalls,
at first sight, produce an effect far greater than the
river itself might lead you to anticipate. You wonder
that so tiny a stream can make so much fuss. It is
just the reverse with Niagara.

It may help us to an adequate conception of the
Falls to remember the vast reservoirs they drain. This
is the only outlet of a great chain of lakes, extending
a distance of 1,400 miles. Lake Superior, the most
remote, is 30,000 square miles in area; Lake Michigan,
22,600; Lake Huron, 21,000; St. Clair, 700; and
Lake Erie, 6,000. The five together have an area of
about 80,000 square miles. This vast extent of water



70 Niagara.



exceeds the area of England, Scotland, and Wales, to-
gether with that of Switzerland. Think of all the rivers
which flow into those lakes, and all the streams which
feed those rivers, and of the vast territory thus drained,
whose surplus waters are all collected here, and whose
only outlet is down the rocky precipice before us, and
through this narrow ravine at our feet ! It is com-
puted that every minute twenty-five millions of cubic
feet of water, that every hour ninety millions of tons,
are being poured over that rock, and yet the loss is
not felt in those reservoirs.

Let us cross again to Goat Island. It is impossible
not to linger on the bridge which raises you scarcely
out of the spray of the Rapids. How fascinating it is
to watch the wild fantastic forms of the waves, tossing
about in all directions. How wildly, how madly, the
waters rush by — yet how beautiful are the tints — like
a strong tide of evil indulgence, disguising its deadly
force with false but bewitching beauty ! It is interest-
ing to note the difference between the movement of
this wild torrent and that of the sea. The latter has a
regular motion — the waves, with occasional variation,
flowing onward in regular succession. But here there
is the wildest confusion, and the utmost variety of



The Falls. 71



form and position. The water of the ocean is sta-
tionary while the waves are moving ; but here the
water is rushing along at the rate of twenty miles an
hour, while the waves remain in the same position,
and preserve the same form — every particle composing
the billow flashing forward to give place to others,
while the billow itself retains its place. Who has not
often watched with interest a piece of wood floating
on the sea — now in the hollow trough between the
waves, now climbing the green side of some watery
hill, now lost in its white crest, now threatened
to be carried far away by the roaring billow that
seizes it — and yet floating there, amidst all changes,
while those waves in long succession disappear ? And
often did I watch with interest a piece of wood in the
Niagara Rapids, hurrying along with almost lightning
speed, amongst and over waves which kept their place
hour after hour, raving, foaming, hissing, as so many
living creatures chained to the rocks below them.

Turning to the right, we soon reach the inner mar-
gin of the "American Fall." Here there is a narrow
wooden staircase leading down to the water. It
seems to overhang the cataract, and is often hidden in
spray, but is perfectly safe. A light bridge carries us



72 Niagara.



over the small branch of the torrent called the " Central
Fall," to the picturesque rock, " Luna Island," situated
on the very verge of the water as it curls over. All
around it the water is whirling and roaring in the mad
excitement of preparation. As you sit in perfect se-
curity, you are sprinkled with the spray of the waves
as they leap upwards for their great plunge; and
you look downward over your knees into the clouds
of foam which ever ascend from the roaring gulf
below.

Remounting the steps, we pass several North
American Indian women, seated here and there with
baskets of trinkets for sale ; pin-cushions, watch-bags,
&c, sewn by them, with beads and hair, and orna-
mented with rude representations of birds and flowers.
They belong to the Tuscarora tribe, who dwell in a
village about nine miles off, where they still enjoy pos-
session of some of their ancient reserved lands. Those
we accosted understood very little English. Though
they had no distinguishing dress, the features and com-
plexion plainly betokened their race. What a revo-
lution has taken place almost in our own time ! This
feeble remnant, looked upon as a curiosity, and just
suffered to exist in a country whose forest solitudes



The Falls. 73



their forefathers recently shared with the bears and
the eagles !

We are now on the highest part of Goat Island, on
the top of the perpendicular cliff which divides the
Fall into its two main streams. Not long ago a slice
of rock had fallen down, carrying with it part of the
path. A single rope gives slight warning of danger
to a visitor. Walking in the dusk of evening,
or going out to see the lunar rainbows, a stranger, lost
in admiration of the scene, and walking along the
beaten, well-marked path, might very easily fall sud-
denly into the gulf below. Again I was reminded of
my adventure at West Point, and of the advice that
in America it was necessary always to "use your
intellect."

Near this spot are several seats for visitors, com-
manding fine views, a refreshment stall, and a wooden
hut, on which is inscribed, " To the Cave of the
Winds." Let us visit this famous cave. You may
prefer doing this, " courteous reader," seated comfor-
tably at your fire-side, but should you ever visit
Niagara, do not let a little inconvenience prevent your
paying your respects to Mollis in his very palace.

We were taken into a very small chamber and told



74 Niagara.



to exchange our dress for the uniform there provided.
We must strip entirely, unless we would walk back in
wet clothes. We encased our feet in thick flannel
moccasins, tied securely to the ankle. These we found
admirably suited to the wet slippery path along which
we had to go, giving us a firm foot-hold. Light blue
"pants," and a yellow canvas jacket, with canvas hel-
met, completely encasing the head and neck, with but
a small opening for the face, completed our costume.
Some ladies issued from another compartment, simi-
larly attired, the only difference being that their jackets
were black. When we looked at one another we did
not wonder at the laughter of the bystanders, and
joined heartily in it. One of the party asked the
guide whether the expedition was dangerous. " Guess
ye'll know when ye've been." A reply more sensible
than courteous — " danger " being a word with a mul-
titude of meanings, according to the temperament of
the individual; some seeing imminent peril where
others find only an exciting delight.

We now descended " Biddle's Stairs," secured by
iron bolts to the rock. About a hundred steps brought
us to a narrow path between the two falls. Here we
met three figures similar to ourselves, who might be



The Falls. 75



taken for two men and a little boy. The party con-
sisted of a gentleman and his wife, with their guide.
The lady did not like the appearance of things. She
saw " danger," and hesitated : he was very anxious to
proceed. They appealed to me. I asked if the lady
had good nerves ; and when informed that the con-
trary was the case, I strongly recommended her to
return, and my advice was wisely followed.

Fear produces danger. Places are perilous accord-
ing to the temperament of those who visit them.
It is great folly when curiosity leads timid people
into circumstances where their terror is not only a
distress and a danger to themselves, but a serious
drawback to the pleasure, and perhaps safety, of
the whole party. And it is a mistaken kindness,
often a cruel selfishness, on the part of others, to urge
them to go where they are likely to have no emotion
but terror.

Passing along the narrow path, some small stones
came rattling down from the cliff above — not a plea-
sant reminder that the constant action of the wind and
spray was disintegrating the rocks, which might, at any
time, fall in large masses into the clouds of foam
below us. We now reached the edge of the descend-



j6 Niagara.



ing torrent ; it was that small branch of the " American
Fall" which is intercepted by Luna Island. The
water was describing a beautiful curve, leaving a con-
siderable space between it and the rock. The spray,
recoiling from the rocks below, dashed with great vio-
lence upon the lower portion of the cliff, which, being
of shale, and much softer than the upper portion, is
hollowed out into a vast chamber, called the " Cave of
the Winds." There was only a narrow foot-plank,
fastened against a rock, with a very light and treach-
erous hand-rail. In a dense mass the great flood was
falling just outside, but within there was a wild rush-
ing, in all directions, of a blinding spray, which it
required some resolution to enter. But the guide
made no allowance for the effect of the novelty of the
scene ; to him it was too familiar ; he could imagine
no danger or difficulty, and he wanted his work done
and his dollars secured as quickly as possible. So,
without a word of direction, or waiting to see if any
aid was needed, he plunged through the storm of mist,
and disappeared. We must needs follow ; one step,
and then all was wild confusion. The water came on
us from every quarter, driven as by contending hurri-
canes. It dashed up from below — it hailed down from



The Falls. 77



above — it flung itself with fury from the descending
torrent on our left, and from the hollow rock on our right.
It urged us on from behind ; it smote us on the face.
We could scarcely open our eyes to see the plank,
which alone kept us from the gulf below us. It would
have been absurd to attempt to speak to each other \
the deafening roar of the waters was accompanied by
a piercing scream, or shriek of the winds, contending
in that watery cave. There was no time for observa-
tion or reflection; we must rush on in advance,
in hope of escape, and of finding again our lost
guide.

We were soon on the other side, sheltered by Luna
Island above, which makes a little break in the
descending sheet of water. A succession of plank
bridges, from rock to rock, brought us outside the Fall.
Looking up, the vast sheet of foam seemed pouring
out from the very skies above us, as if certain to over-
whelm us. The descending sheet was now between
us and the land, and fell just below our feet into a
gulf which our vision could not penetrate. The mist
drove up against us with great violence, and the wind
threatened to dislodge us. Very frail appeared the
narrow planks, resting on the rocks, against which the



78 Niagara.



torrent was dashing. Beneath us was a wild tumult
of waters, which enwrapped us with the spray they
threw off. The hand-rail was so weak that, had our
feet slipped, it must have given way, and was therefore
no real security. We were not long on our return
journey, having made the circuit of the descending
torrent. We were, of course, drenched to the skin,
and were glad to be re-invested in our own dry gar-
ments. The charge was two dollars, or about six
shillings each, which was to include the guide ; he,
however, demanded a separate fee, though he had
done nothing but rush on in front, and had seemed
quite astonished and angry when asked to give further
help to his party. A brisk walk was very pleasant
after our extraordinary shower-bath.

Let us now rest awhile on one of the seats over-
looking the Horse-shoe Fall. What a grand curve it
has ! The bright-green tint of the water, just in the
centre of the Fall, as it curls smoothly over, and where
it is twenty feet thick, is never to be forgotten. Every-
where else the descending sheet is now white with
foam ; but sometimes it is resplendent with all the
colours of the rainbow. From this spot, I one day
watched the sun rise. All had been one uniform grey



The Falls. 79



tint when, suddenly a gleam of light fell across the
edge of the Fall, irradiating it with glory. A well-
defined dark shadow was now cast aslant the descend-
ing torrent, serving to display the marvellous beauty
of that portion on which the sun was shining, and
painting it with amber, violet, and crimson. The
column of foam had presented a most imposing spec-
tacle : the lower part of it was in comparative dark-
ness — it was a cloud ; the upper portion, a thousand
feet high, caught the first rays of the sun, and was
glowing with the most brilliant crimson — it was fire.
I thought of the pillar of the cloud, which guided the
Israelites on their march, and which at night was a


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Online LibraryNewman HallFrom Liverpool to St. Louis → online text (page 5 of 16)