« PreviousContinue »
BY THE AUTHOR OF THE AMERICAN IN PARIS,' 'LETTERS FROM LONDON,' etc.
WITH your leave, gentle reader, I will continue my efforts to entertain you with random sketches of Our Village. The better to execute this task, I have scrambled up the steep of the Sharp Mountain, ascending abruptly from the Schuylkill, to near the summit; where a gray and fretted rock-work, bearing on its flanks the motley weatherstains of a thousand damp and frozen winters, and hot summers, commands an extended view of the prospect; where, snugly sequestered in a nook, one can look out unobserved upon the varied scene; its mountains, its valleys, and villages, and its busy mortals, moving about in their several employments. Come, if you are a pretty maid, and sit by me. Poets have come hither to dictate their first sonnets, to exchange their first vows of mutual affection. I forgive mother Eve, with my whole heart, for the several penalties she has entailed upon us; among others, for the season's difference.' May, as a kind friend after absence, as good fortune after gloom and adversity, has returned with a pleasurable influence, that had been forever unfelt under a monotony of eternal Springs; and the rosy-footed Month, (I ask pardon of her younger sister, who is more rosy than she,) has to-day put on her sweetest smiles, with her robe of green; and a genial spirit breathing in the air invites to enjoyment. Come, then, dear lady; the perfume of the cedar is deliciously fragrant; a tufted pine, its hair dishevelled, and gently curled by the breeze, offers you protection from the sun; now and then a bird carrols overhead its dainty lay; Zephyrus has set loose the trickling rivulets, and Flora has unbuttoned the little flowers. I have prepared a seat for you of moss. I know a lady who will be glad to sit on it, if you will not.
That's a good girl! Now tuck up your frock, and I will show you all that is prettiest upon the disc of this charming landscape. To a lady's perfections, it is necessary that a good portion of her time should be spent in the country. She should be set out as the flowerpots from the hot-house, in the spring. Not only the mind is fed here on better thoughts, but the limbs receive the exercise requisite to beauty, and the nerves are fortified against the hurricanes that break in through the key-holes of city parlors, bearing rheums, catarrhs, and consumptions, on their deadly wings.
That huge pile, which seems to prop up the heavens, bounding the view northwardly, eight miles distant, and running parallel, is the BROAD MOUNTAIN. The smaller hills intervening, some of them turning up their noses as if they were mountains, shaded with grizly underwood, and ever-green pine and hemlock, and waving like the troubled sea, are the depositories of the coal and iron which give the region its commercial worth and dignity. Traversing this valley, not
* A CLASSIC imitation: Componere togam — succincta toga;' a succinct way the Latins had of saying, 'Attend!'
twenty years ago, the traveller often stood still in wonder at the immense waste of creation; disposed, especially, to find fault with the bad economy, when obliged to seek one of these steeps, of a hot day. Improvident mortal! how little imagining the treasures laid up by Nature's bounty for him and his posterity, in the bosoms of these heaving ridges and mountains!
The coal was indeed long ago discovered; but a score or two of years elapsed while philosophers were showing the impossibility, and fools finding out the means, of burning it; and as many more, while the learned were demonstrating the deleterious effects of carbonic gasses upon human health and food. The first burning of this fuel was forbidden in England by an edict of parliament, and by a much more absolute authority in America — public opinion. Ladies' hair fell off, or was turned red, and complexions and furniture were ruined; influenzas and bronchitis multiplied; and multitudes, of all sexes and conditions, perished; wives scolded, servants ran away, and grates were tossed into the street. In a word, the household gods were smoked, cracked, and shattered, and kitchen hearths made desolate, Coal, however, prevailed, after many struggles, and is now the universal fuel of the great cities, with no undue increase in the bills of mortality. The domestic charities are restored; the poker, also, to its legitimate functions; ladies' heads are reinvested with their tresses, blonde, auburn and jet; and there has been a regular improvement in the female complexion and gastronomy.
The river which you see making its way toward the south, with a fall of eight hundred feet to the tide, upon a hundred miles, and designed to convey the minerals of this region to market, is the SCHUYLKILL. To be prompt and convenient to this function, it has carved for itself a channel, as you see, through the solid mountain, by a process very puzzling to human wit. A little sand confines the ocean, and the mountain rock has here yielded to a rivulet! There is an infinity of subjects before us for the geognosophist, that would keep him in innocent employment for a long life-time, making him as learned in cosmogony as Whiston, or Burnet, or Buffon, who ended their days by knowing nothing about the matter. By what process was it, indeed, that great Nature rolled up the surface of the earth into these multitudinous waves, and impregnated them with minerals, so necessary to human uses?
These numerous 'shanties,' which you see sprinkled over the hills, lonely or in groups, are the homes of the miners, to which, coming out of the ground, they resort to pay their respects to their sturdy little wives; and the openings in the flanks of the hills, gaping so hideous, are the mines, from which men, black as the imps of another region, carry out coal. A hundred miles of rail-road intersect the valleys, or tunnel the hills, upon which long trains of cars, with their conductors, and a woman occasionally seated on them, roll along the gently declining plane, with no visible power of motion; horses trotting after; and now and then a locomotive comes blustering up, like a great bully, making music with the puffing and suffocating engines of the mines and furnaces. One more revolution of the year will present you an uninterrupted rail-road of ninety miles to Philadelphia: a third part only is remaining to be accomplished; and all this where
ten years ago the traveller came bobbing along in a clattering stage, δ' ανάντα, καταντα, παραντα, upon the rough ribs of the corduroy.
A fly sometimes serves, on a picture, to bring out the principal figure ― a hero or an elephant. So much for the science of grouping. The puddle you see there, at the entrance to the town, so bedecked with agreeable images, is kept up by the Borough for the gratification of the frogs, who, gathering about the margin, gargle out their little souls in a hymn of salutation to the spring. Some theologians think Nature has established a system of compensations throughout all creation, to equalize good and evil; giving to cowards an intense sentiment of courage, and to fools excessive vanity, to compensate their want of brains. It must be on this principle that frogs are so exceedingly happy in their own music. That clumsy bird, halfflying, half-footing, in haste to reach the puddle, is a goose; and that one, with arched neck, stately as the swan - now sitting quiet and meditative, now rowing its way through the stream that, also is a goose, of the other gender. Those are sheep which browse on the hill; and the little ones, frisking or sleeping in the sun, or studying the gamut under their woolly mammas, emblems of innocent country life, those are unweaned lambs. As this is your first visit beyond Broadway, I must be elementary in my descriptions. The girl upon the rail-car, with her tartan what-do-you call it on her shoulder, is Scotch ; and that one winding down the hill, in a covered equipage, dragged slowly by a pot-bellied nag, bringing provisions to the market, is Dutch; her name Rosabella. Her butter is sweeter than the breath of Love, and she is nice in eggs as Cæsar was in wives. One goes to market on purpose to study this chef d'œuvre of Nature's gallery, and gossip with her.
The pretty maiden you see there, at Mr. Potts' door, her foremost leg straight to the toe, and the other in an angle, and a basket running over with flowers on her left arm, in her right fingers a rose open, and a bud with three graceful leaves, (look at her through the telescope,) dear little thing! is she not beautiful? The roses borrow blushes, and the lily whiteness, from her cheeks, and a cherub smile lights up her decent teeth, of purest ivory. All the beauties, you would swear, of Schuylkill county were summed up upon her single face. It is Helen, the flower-girl. Shall some clod of earth, alas! feed upon the quintessential ambrosia of her kisses! She sleeps, sweeter than ladies upon the eider down, upon a chaffy cot, far beyond the mountains; and with the blush of morning, tucked up, brings showers of roses to the market, carrolled by the harmless birds. Heaven preserve thee, pretty Helen, as thy own mignionette, fragrant from birth to the withered leaf!
That stately old man, who moves in angles and straight lines, is the cross school-master, with a birch. Now he enters his school, and the apple-munching urchins are squeezed into a nut-shell, each at his task. He scourges the boys as the boys scourge tops. But did you ever see such mobs of children! They seem to come out of the ground, as toads after a summer's rain. The mountain air and mineral streams are so favorable to fœcundity, say the doctors. I knew a lady of the city who had been ten years in holy wedlock, unblessed; and what do you think? She came to Pottsville, and at the end of
seven months had twins! If Rebecca had lived among us, Jacob would have had no need of a resort (so unpleasant) to the Shunamites for an heir.
The old woman who gathers withered sticks by the way-side, is a witch. You will often see her, when the thievish Night broods upon Guinea Hill, walk with printless footsteps upon the cowslips, brush the dew from the mullen leaves, gather poisonous herbs, and turn about like a whirligig on her heel. She pinches the Dutch girl's hips till they are black and blue, and with a wand calls about her the sprites who haunt the mines, (in Wales they call them Knockers,) who kindly discover the veins of ore hidden in the crannies of the earth.
The poor animal with ragged coat and dulled spirits, that stands chained to a log by the cottage-door, is an ass, fatigued with dragging coal from the mines. How askingly he eyes the empty trough, then 'earthward hangs his moveless head.' Dear Sarah! how often I have seen her warm her darling little feet at the grate, (Parlor, No. 11, Fourth-street,) little suspecting the obligations that she-th - that we owed to this meek child of misery. this poor donkey! Often, too, have I seen at this same grate a clown, his coat-tail under his arm, as little sensible of the obligations one ass owed to another.
That old horse, worn to his ribs upon the tow-path, is battening his last meal upon the commons; turned out by hard-hearted man to die no longer serviceable. There is no resentment in his face : he only looks upon the bare and unshrubbed earth imploringly; he would lick the hand that has abused him. Is there no heaven, alas! no retributive justice, for the poor quadruped!
But I fear I fatigue you with these unseemly objects. I wish rather I could show you the thousand little glens, and dells, and water-falls, concealed in the recesses of the woods and mountains. The smiling village you see six miles to the south, is Schuylkill-Haven; and the vehicle upon the road, its four wheels in the air, and the passengers making their toilet by the way-side - the women gathering up the babies they had thrown out of the window is the mail-stage, upset. The presumptuous little village, a mile to the east, is Port Carbon: the engine, puffing and suffocating like some dying monster, at the foot of the hill, and busied in melting the rude ore with the native coal, and throwing the ruddy tinge of its hot fires upon the stream, is LYMAN'S FURNACE.' The toy-like gentleman at its side, who is making an invisible bow to a lady, (you can see her with the telescope,) is our chief burgess in his natural shapes, the counterpart of Falstaff.
And the little men, in feathered caps, standing still upon the plain, as chess-men upon the board?'
Our National Infantry,' the Invincibles, only seeming to stand still. They are shouldering their fire-locks, right about face! - advancing and retreating, and looking fierce as Napoleons, under the belligerent shouts of their captain, which expire at a mile from our ears - so near are we to heaven. Listen! you will catch a note of the chiming spheres ; music dispensed only to honest maids, say the poets, and denied the gross ears of wicked men.
The sequestered spot, where the sun is westering toward the night; where the villagers love to walk in the soft melancholy of the Indian
Summer evening; where the infant shrubbery is now teeming into life, and the spreading oak, and hemlock, and cypress, are gently crisped by the breeze, is a village grave-yard, without the precincts of the town; where, the pilgrimage of life being run, one may hope the due respect and reverent decencies of the tomb. Honor to those who have set the pious example: rural cemeteries are now springing up, with emulation, on all sides. The Rev. Mr., who has just completed his enclosure, beckoning some one the other day, whispered, with an air of joy : We have got one in already!' In graveyards, as in all things else, rivalship is the soul of business.
The eminence which you see at the foot of the town, on the north, heaving up like a great giant's grave, and covered with a squad of mean houses; where the African, ragged and indolent, and besotted with rum, hides his stupid misery; where loud wranglings, and hallelujahs, and frequent cries of murder, infest the night, made blacker by negroes, is GUINEA HILL. The sable procession winding slowly toward the little church on the summit, is a negro burying; the only event by which the inhabitants of this Hill seem to assert their common humanity.
When the eye-lids of the day have closed, Chaos and Night sit here together, on their leaden stools, introduced by a mulatto brat, in a gray hood, begotten by the voluptuous Day upon the ravished nymph Darkness, and called Twilight. Revelry, with her tipsy sisters, keeps tavern here, and Intemperance sits blear-eyed upon the doorsill; and Sloth, and Filth, and Lewdness, the express resemblance of their shabby little mother, Smut, creep about the doors and gutters. Night's steeds of iron-gray, champing their bridles, stand ready yoked to her car of jet, by her colored grooms the Hours, frizzled in woolly locks. Black Bill, (who knows not Bill?) and his mother, guilty of the same offence, are styed here with the pigs-principal citizens. If you look in, the night half spent, when Hecate rides on the storm, and Wantonness skulks about in quest of such loves as grow upon this Hill, you will see Bill's mother, in Methodist devotion, praying success to her son, out upon feats of burglary in the village. And lame Justice comes limping up in the morning, when the thief has fled. There! if you like John Bunyan.
The sprightly village at our feet, with its air of freshness; its garden fences glowing with the white-wash; its scattered dwellings covering a mile of surface; the churches of its twenty religions lifting up their spires; proud especially of its Catholic church, itself the ornament of a town, ensconced on the side of the hill, sheltering its devotion from the winds; and of its Town-Hall, and two mammoth hotels, SHOEMAKER's and the NATIONAL, where the virtuosi of anthracite gather around the sparkling grate, of a winter's night, and tell of ores hidden in the veins of the earth; of toll, and freight, and prices of the season; proud too of its Centre-street, pointing to the poles, and of its Market; Mahantongo, Norwegian, and other streets, diverging at right angles, east and west; and of its detached towns in clusters upon the flanks; Greenwood, without a green spot; Morris' Addition, as the neck is addition to the head and shoulders; and Mount Carbon, built in a low valley; this village, which I must now describe to you with a brevity very disagreeable to those who