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In palaces, lay straining her low thought
Hail, thou inexhaustible source of wonder and contemplation! Hail, thou multitudinous ocean! whose waves chase one another down like the generations of men, and, after a momentary space, are immerged forever in oblivion. Thy fluctuating waters wash the varied shores of the world, and while they disjoin nations whom a nearer connection would involve in eternal war, they circulate their arts and their labors, and give health and plenty to mankind.
How glorious, how awful, are the scenes thou displayest ! whether we view thee when every wind is hushed, when the morning sun silvers the level line of the horizon, or when its evening track is marked with flaming gold, and thy unrippled bosom reflects the radiance of the overarching heavens; or whether we behold thee in thy terrors, when the black tempest swepps thy swelling billows, and the boiling surge mixes with the clouds, when death rides the storm, and humanity drops a fruitless tear for the toiling mariner whose heart is sinking with dismay !
And yet, mighty deep! 'tis thy surface alone we view. Who can penetrate the secrets of thy wide domain ? What eye can visit thy immense rocks and caverns, that teem with life and vegetation? or search out the myriads of objects whose beauties lie scattered over thy dread abyss ?
The mind staggers with the immensity of her own conceptions; and when she contemplates the flux and reflux of thy tides, which from the beginning of the world were never known to err, how does she shrink at the idea of that divine Power, which originally laid thy foundations so sure, and whose omnipotent voice hath fixed the limits where thy proud waves shall be stayed !
86. Falls of the Niagara.
There is a power and beauty — I may say a divinity – in rushing waters, felt by all who acknowledge any sympathy with nature. The mountain stream, leaping from rock to rock, and winding, foaming, and glancing through its devious and stony channels, arrests the eye of the most careless traveller; sings to the heart, and haunts the memory
of the man of taste and imagination; and holds, as by some undefinable spell, the affections of those who inhabit its borders. A waterfall of even a few feet in height will enliven the dullest scenery, and lend a charm to the loveliest; while a high and headlong cataract has always been ranked among the sublimest objects to be found in the compass of the globe.
It is no matter of surprise, therefore, that lovers of nature perform journeys of homage to that sovereign of cataracts, that monarch of all pouring floods, the Falls of Niagara. By universal consent this cataract has long ago been proclaimed one of the wonders of the world. It is alone in its ind. Though a waterfall, it is not to be compared with
other waterfalls. In its majesty, its supremacy, and its influence on the soul of man, its brother hood is with the living ocean and the eternal hills.
A foot-path through the garden at the back of the public house, and down a steep and thickly-wooded bank, brings us upon Table Rock, a flat ledge of limestone, forming the brink of the precipice, the upper stratum of which is a jagged shelf, no more than about a foot in thickness, jutting out over the gulf below. Here the whole scene breaks upon us. Looking up the river, we face the grand crescent, called the British or Horseshoe Fall; opposite to us is Goat Island, which divides the falls; and lower down, to the left, is the American Fall.
And what is the first impression made upon the beholder ? Decidedly, I should say, that of beauty; of sovereign, majestic beauty, it is true, but still that of beauty, soul-filling beauty, rather than of awful sublimity. Every thing is on so large a scale; the height of the cataract is so much exceeded by its breadth, and so much concealed by the volumes of mist which wrap and shroud its feet; you stand so directly on the same level with the falling waters; you see so large a portion of them at a considerable distance from you; and their roar comes up so moderated from the deep abyss, - that the loveliness of the scene, at first sight, is permitted to take precedence of its grandeur.
Its coloring is of the most exquisite kind. The deep seagreen of the centre of the crescent, where it is probable the greatest mass of water falls, lit up with sudden flashes of foam, and contrasted with the rich, creamy whiteness of the two sides or wings of the same crescent; then the sober gray of the opposite precipice of Goat Island, crowned with the luxuriant foliage of its forest-trees, and connected still farther on with the pouring snows of the greater and less American Falls; the agitated and foamy surface of the waters at the bottom of the falls, followed by the darkness of their hue as they sweep along through the perpendicular gorge below; the mist, floating about, and veiling objects
with a softening indistinciness; and the bright rainbow which is constant to the sun, - altogether form a combination of colors, changing, too, with every change of light, every variation of the wind, and every hour of the day; bination which the painter's art cannot imitate, and which Nature herself has perhaps only effected here.
And the motion of these falls, how wonderfully fine it is! how graceful, how stately, how calm! There is nothing in it hurried or headlong, as you might have supposed. The eye is so long in measuring the vast and yet unacknowledged height, that the waters seem to move over almost slowly; the central and most voluminous portion of the Horseshoe even goes down silently.
The truth is, that pompous phrases cannot describe these falls. Calm and deeply-meaning words should alone be used in speaking of them. Any thing like hyperbole would degrade them, if they could be degraded. But they cannot be. Neither the words nor the deeds of man degrade or disturb them. There they pour over, in their collected might and dignified fowing, steadily, constantly, as they always have been pouring since they came from the hollow of His hand; and you can add nothing to them, nor can you take any thing from them.
87. The Same, continued.
Goat Island is a paradise. I do not believe there is a spot in the world, which, within the same space, comprises so much grandeur and beauty. It is only about a mile in circumference, and in that mile you have a forest of old trees, many of them draperied with climbing and cleaving ivy; a rich variety of wild shrubs and plants; several views of the rapids; an opportunity to pass without discomfort under the smaller American Fall, and the very finest view, I will venture to say, of the great crescent, or Horseshoe Fall.
Turn to the left, as you enter this Eden, and you come out into a cleared and open spot, on which you discern a loghut, with vines round its door and windows, and a little garden in front of it, running down to the water's edge; a fock of sheep feeding quietly, or reposing pleasantly, under scattered clumps of graceful trees; while, beyond this scene of rural repose, you see the whole field of the rapids, bearing down in full force upon this point of their division, as if determined to sweep
away. Or turn to the right, and, threading the shady forest, step aside to the margin of the smaller American Fall,* and bathe your hands, if you please, in its just leaping waters. Then, pursuing the circuit of the island, descend a spiral flight of stairs, and, treading cautiously along a narrow foot-path, cut horizontally in the side of the cliff, enter the magnificent hall formed by the falling flood, and command your nerves for a few moments, that, standing as you do about midway in the descent of the fall, you may look up, eighty feet, to to arched and crystal roof, and down, eighty feet, on its terrible, and misty, and resounding floor. You will never forget that sight and sound.
Retrace your steps to the upper bank, and then, if your strength holds out, proceed a short way farther, to the enjoyment of a view, already referred to, which excels every other in this place of wonders. It is obtained from a bridge or platform, which has recently been thrown out over the Terrapin Rocks, and is carried to the very brink of the Horseshoe Fall, and even projects beyond it; so that the spectator at the end of the platform is actually suspended over the fall.
If he is alone, and gives way to his feelings, he must drop
* This is separated from the greater fall by a diminutive island, corered with trees, which tenaciously maintains its terrible position, in emulation, as it were, of Goat Island. This lesser fall, small as it is compared with the others, would of itself be worth a journey.