It was an absolute comfort, indeed, to find Leutze so quietly busy at this great national work, which is destined to glow for centuries on the walls of the Capitol, if that edifice shall stand, or must share its fate, if treason shall succeed in subverting it with the Union which it represents. It was delightful to see him so calmly elaborating his design, while other men doubted and feared, or hoped treacherously, and whispered to one another that the nation would exist only a little longer, or that, if a remnant still held together, its centre and seat of government would be far northward and westward of Washington. But the artist keeps right on, firm of heart and hand, drawing his outlines with an unwavering pencil, beautifying and idealizing our rude, material life, and thus manifesting that we have an indefeasible claim to a more enduring national existence. In honest truth, what with the hope-inspiring influence of the design, and what with Leutze's undisturbed evolvement of it, I was exceedingly encouraged, and allowed these cheerful auguries to weigh against a sinister omen that was pointed out to me in another part of the Capitol. The freestone walls of the central edifice are pervaded with great cracks, and threaten to come thundering down, under the immense weight of the iron dome,—an appropriate catastrophe enough, if it should occur on the day when we drop the Southern stars out of our flag.
Everybody seems to be at Washington, and yet there is a singular dearth of imperatively noticeable people there. I question whether there are half a dozen individuals, in all kinds of eminence, at whom a stranger, wearied with the contact of a hundred moderate celebrities, would turn round to snatch a second glance. Secretary Seward, to be sure,—a pale, large-nosed, elderly man, of moderate stature, with a decided originality of gait and aspect, and a cigar in his mouth,—etc., etc.
[Footnote: We are again compelled to interfere with our friend's license of personal description and criticism. Even Cabinet Ministers (to whom the next few pages of the article were devoted) have their private immunities, which ought to be conscientiously observed,—unless, indeed, the writer chanced to have some very piquant motives for violating them.]
* * * * *
Of course, there was one other personage, in the class of statesmen, whom I should have been truly mortified to leave Washington without seeing; since (temporarily, at least, and by force of circumstances) he was the man of men. But a private grief had built up a barrier about him, impeding the customary free intercourse of Americans with their chief magistrate; so that I might have come away without a glimpse of his very remarkable physiognomy, save for a semi-official opportunity of which I was glad to take advantage. The fact is, we were invited to annex ourselves, as supernumeraries, to a deputation that was about to wait upon the President, from a Massachusetts whip-factory, with a present of a splendid whip.
Our immediate party consisted only of four or five, (including Major Ben Perley Poore, with his note-book and pencil.) but we were joined by several other persons, who seemed to have been lounging about the precincts of the White House, under the spacious porch, or within the hall, and who swarmed in with us to take the chances of a presentation. Nine o'clock had been appointed as the time for receiving the deputation, and we were punctual to the moment; but not so the President, who sent us word that he was eating his breakfast, and would come as soon as he could. His appetite, we were glad to think, must have been a pretty fair one; for we waited about half an hour in one of the antechambers, and then were ushered into a reception-room, in one corner of which sat the Secretaries of War and of the Treasury, expecting, like ourselves, the termination of the Presidential breakfast. During this interval there were several new additions to our group, one or two of whom were in a working-garb, so that we formed a very miscellaneous collection of people, mostly unknown to each other, and without any common sponsor, but all with an equal right to look our head-servant in the face. By-and-by there was a little stir on the staircase and in the passageway, etc., etc.
[Footnote: We are compelled to omit two or three pages, in which the author describes the interview, and gives his idea of the personal appearance and deportment of the President. The sketch appears to have been written in a benign spirit, and perhaps conveys a not inaccurate impression of its august subject; but it lacks reverence, and it pains us to see a gentleman of ripe age, and who has spent years under the corrective influence of foreign institutions, falling into the characteristic and most ominous fault of Young America.]
* * * * *
Good Heavens! what liberties have I been taking with one of the potentates of the earth, and the man on whose conduct more important consequences depend than on that of any other historical personage of the century! But with whom is an American citizen entitled to take a liberty, if not with his own chief magistrate? However, lest the above allusions to President Lincoln's little peculiarities (already well known to the country and to the world) should be misinterpreted, I deem it proper to say a word or two, in regard to him, of unfeigned respect and measurable confidence. He is evidently a man of keen faculties, and, what is still more to the purpose, of powerful character. As to his integrity, the people have that intuition of it which is never deceived. Before he actually entered upon his great office, and for a considerable time afterwards, there is no reason to suppose that he adequately estimated the gigantic task about to be imposed on him, or, at least, had any distinct idea how it was to be managed; and I presume there may have been more than one veteran politician who proposed to himself to take the power out of President Lincoln's hands into his own, leaving our honest friend only the public responsibility for the good or ill success of the career. The extremely imperfect development of his statesmanly qualities, at that period, may have justified such designs. But the President is teachable by events, and has now spent a year in a very arduous course of education; he has a flexible mind, capable of much expansion, and convertible towards far loftier studies and activities than those of his early life; and if he came to Washington a backwoods humorist, he has already transformed himself into as good a statesman (to speak moderately) as his prime-minister.
Among other excursions to camps and places of interest in the neighborhood of Washington, we went, one day, to Alexandria. It is a little port on the Potomac, with one or two shabby wharves and docks, resembling those of a fishing-village in New England, and the respectable old brick town rising gently behind. In peaceful times it no doubt bore an aspect of decorous quietude and dulness; but it was now thronged with the Northern soldiery, whose stir and bustle contrasted strikingly with the many closed warehouses, the absence of citizens from their customary haunts, and the lack of any symptom of healthy activity, while army-wagons trundled heavily over the pavements, and sentinels paced the sidewalks, and mounted dragoons dashed to and fro on military errands. I tried to imagine how very disagreeable the presence of a Southern army would be in a sober town of Massachusetts; and the thought considerably lessened my wonder at the cold and shy regards that are cast upon our troops, the gloom, the sullen demeanor, the declared or scarcely hidden sympathy with rebellion, which are so frequent here. It is a strange thing in human life, that the greatest errors both of men and women often spring from their sweetest and most generous qualities; and so, undoubtedly, thousands of warm-hearted, sympathetic, and impulsive persons have joined the Rebels, not from any real zeal for the cause, but because, between two conflicting loyalties, they chose that which necessarily lay nearest the heart. There never existed any other Government against which treason was so easy, and could defend itself by such plausible arguments as against that of the United States. The anomaly of two allegiances (of which that of the State comes nearest home to a man's feelings, and includes the altar and the hearth, while the General Government claims his devotion only to an airy mode of law, and has no symbol but a flag) is exceedingly mischievous in this point of view; for it has converted crowds of honest people into traitors, who seem to themselves not merely innocent, but patriotic, and who die for a bad cause with as quiet a conscience as if it were the best. In the vast extent of our country,—too vast by far to be taken into one small human heart,—we inevitably limit to our own State, or, at farthest, to our own section, that sentiment of physical love for the soil which renders an Englishman, for example, so intensely sensitive to the dignity and well-being of his little island, that one hostile foot, treading anywhere upon it, would make a bruise on each individual breast. If a man loves his own State, therefore, and is content to be ruined with her, let us shoot him, if we can, but allow him an honorable burial in the soil he fights for. [Footnote: We do not thoroughly comprehend the author's drift in the foregoing paragraph, but are inclined to think its tone reprehensible, and its tendency impolitic in the present stage of our national difficulties.]
In Alexandria, we visited the tavern in which Colonel Ellsworth was killed, and saw the spot where he fell, and the stairs below, whence Jackson fired the fatal shot, and where he himself was slain a moment afterwards; so that the assassin and his victim must have met on the threshold of the spirit-world, and perhaps came to a better understanding before they had taken many steps on the other side. Ellsworth was too generous to bear an immortal grudge for a deed like that, done in hot blood, and by no skulking enemy. The memorial-hunters have completely cut away the original wood-work around the spot, with their pocket-knives; and the staircase, balustrade, and floor, as well as the adjacent doors and doorframes, have recently been renewed; the walls, moreover, are covered with new paper-hangings, the former having been torn off in tatters; and thus it becomes something like a metaphysical question whether the place of the murder actually exists.
Driving out of Alexandria, we stopped on the edge of the city to inspect an old slave-pen, which is one of the lions of the place, but a very poor one; and a little farther on, we came to a brick church where Washington used sometimes to attend service,—a pre-Revolutionary edifice, with ivy growing over its walls, though not very luxuriantly. Reaching the open country, we saw forts and camps on all sides; some of the tents being placed immediately on the ground, while others were raised over a basement of logs, laid lengthwise, like those of a log-hut, or driven vertically into the soil in a circle,—thus forming a solid wall, the chinks closed up with Virginia mud, and above it the pyramidal shelter of the tent. Here were in progress all the occupations, and all the idleness, of the soldier in the tented field: some were cooking the company-rations in pots hung over fires in the open air; some played at ball, or developed their muscular power by gymnastic exercise; some read newspapers; some smoked cigars or pipes; and many were cleaning their arms and accoutrements,—the more carefully, perhaps, because their division was to be reviewed by the Commander-in-Chief that afternoon; others sat on the ground, while their comrades cut their hair,—it being a soldierly fashion (and for excellent reasons) to crop it within an inch of the skull; others, finally, lay asleep in breast-high tents, with their legs protruding into the open air.
We paid a visit to Fort Ellsworth, and from its ramparts (which have been heaped up out of the muddy soil within the last few months, and will require still a year or two to make them verdant) we had a beautiful view of the Potomac, a truly majestic river, and the surrounding country. The fortifications, so numerous in all this region, and now so unsightly with their bare, precipitous sides, will remain as historic monuments, grass-grown and picturesque memorials of an epoch of terror and suffering: they will serve to make our country dearer and more interesting to us, and afford fit soil for poetry to root itself in: for this is a plant which thrives best in spots where blood has been spilt long ago, and grows in abundant clusters in old ditches, such as the moat around Fort Ellsworth will be a century hence. It may seem to be paying dear for what many will reckon but a worthless weed; but the more historical associations we can link with our localities, the richer will be the daily life that feeds upon the past, and the more valuable the things that have been long established: so that our children will be less prodigal than their fathers in sacrificing good institutions to passionate impulses and impracticable theories. This herb of grace, let us hope, may be found in the old footprints of the war.
Even in an aesthetic point of view, however, the war has done a great deal of enduring mischief, by causing the devastation of great tracts of woodland scenery, in which this part of Virginia would appear to have been very rich. Around all the encampments, and everywhere along the road, we saw the bare sites of what had evidently been tracts of hard-wood forest, indicated by the unsightly stumps of well-grown trees, not smoothly felled by regular axe-men, but hacked, haggled, and unevenly amputated, as by a sword, or other miserable tool, in an unskilful hand. Fifty years will not repair this desolation. An army destroys everything before and around it, even to the very grass; for the sites of the encampments are converted into barren esplanades, like those of the squares in French cities, where not a blade of grass is allowed to grow. As to other symptoms of devastation and obstruction, such as deserted houses, unfenced fields, and a general aspect of nakedness and ruin, I know not how much may be due to a normal lack of neatness in the rural life of Virginia, which puts a squalid face even upon a prosperous state of things; but undoubtedly the war must have spoilt what was good, and made the bad a great deal worse. The carcasses of horses were scattered along the way-side.
One very pregnant token of a social system thoroughly disturbed was presented by a party of contrabands, escaping out of the mysterious depths of Secessia; and its strangeness consisted in the leisurely delay with which they trudged forward, as dreading no pursuer, and encountering nobody to turn them back. They were unlike the specimens of their race whom we are accustomed to see at the North, and, in my judgment, were far more agreeable. So rudely were they attired,—as if their garb had grown upon them spontaneously,—so picturesquely natural in manners, and wearing such a crust of primeval simplicity, (which is quite polished away from the Northern black man,) that they seemed a kind of creature by themselves, not altogether human, but perhaps quite as good, and akin to the fauns and rustic deities of olden times. I wonder whether I shall excite anybody's wrath by saying this. It is no great matter. At all events, I felt most kindly towards these poor fugitives, but knew not precisely what to wish in their behalf, nor in the least how to help them. For the sake of the manhood which is latent in them, I would not have turned them back; but I should have felt almost as reluctant, on their own account, to hasten them forward to the stranger's land; and I think my prevalent idea was, that, whoever may be benefited by the results of this war, it will not be the present generation of negroes, the childhood of whose race is now gone forever, and who must henceforth fight a hard battle with the world, on very unequal terms. On behalf of my own race, I am glad, and can only hope that an inscrutable Providence means good to both parties.
There is an historical circumstance, known to few, that connects the children of the Puritans with these Africans of Virginia, in a very singular way. They are our brethren, as being lineal descendants from the Mayflower, the fated womb of which, in her first voyage, sent forth a brood of Pilgrims upon Plymouth Rock, and, in a subsequent one, spawned slaves upon the Southern soil,—a monstrous birth, but with which we have an instinctive sense of kindred, and so are stirred by an irresistible impulse to attempt their rescue, even at the cost of blood and ruin. The character of our sacred ship, I fear, may suffer a little by this revelation; but we must let her white progeny offset her dark one,—and two such portents never sprang from an identical source before.
While we drove onward, a young officer on horseback looked earnestly into the carriage, and recognized some faces that he had seen before; so he rode along by our side, and we pestered him with queries and observations, to which he responded more civilly than they deserved. He was on General McClellan's staff, and a gallant cavalier, high-booted, with a revolver in his belt, and mounted on a noble horse, which trotted hard and high without disturbing the rider in his accustomed seat. His face had a healthy hue of exposure and an expression of careless hardihood; and, as I looked at him, it seemed to me that the war had brought good fortune to the youth of this epoch, if to none beside; since they now make it their daily business to ride a horse and handle a sword, instead of lounging listlessly through the duties, occupations, pleasures—all tedious alike—to which the artificial state of society limits a peaceful generation. The atmosphere of the camp and the smoke of the battle-field are morally invigorating; the hardy virtues flourish in them, the nonsense dies like a wilted weed. The enervating effects of centuries of civilization vanish at once, and leave these young men to enjoy a life of hardship, and the exhilarating sense of danger,—to kill men blamelessly, or to be killed gloriously,—and to be happy in following out their native instincts of destruction, precisely in the spirit of Homer's heroes, only with some considerable change of mode. One touch of Nature makes not only the whole world, but all time, akin. Set men face to face, with weapons in their hands, and they are as ready to slaughter one another now, after playing at peace and good-will for so many years, as in the rudest ages, that never heard of peace-societies, and thought no wine so delicious as what they quaffed from an enemy's skull. Indeed, if the report of a Congressional committee may be trusted, that old-fashioned kind of goblet has again come into use, at the expense of our Northern head-pieces,—a costly drinking-cup to him that furnishes it! Heaven forgive me for seeming to jest upon such a subject!—only, it is so odd, when we measure our advances from barbarism, and find ourselves just here! [Footnote: We hardly expected this outbreak in favor of war from the Peaceable Man; but the justice of our cause makes us all soldiers at heart, however quiet in our outward life. We have heard of twenty Quakers in a single company of a Pennsylvania regiment.]
We now approached General McClellan's head-quarters, which, at that time, were established at Fairfield Seminary. The edifice was situated on a gentle elevation, amid very agreeable scenery, and, at a distance, looked like a gentleman's seat. Preparations were going forward for reviewing a division of ten or twelve thousand men, the various regiments composing which had begun to array themselves on an extensive plain, where, methought, there was a more convenient place for a battle than is usually found in this broken and difficult country. Two thousand cavalry made a portion of the troops to be reviewed. By-and-by we saw a pretty numerous troop of mounted officers, who were congregated on a distant part of the plain, and whom we finally ascertained to be the Commander-in-Chief's staff, with McClellan himself at their head. Our party managed to establish itself in a position conveniently close to the General, to whom, moreover, we had the honor of an introduction; and he bowed, on his horseback, with a good deal of dignity and martial courtesy, but no airs nor fuss nor pretension beyond what his character and rank inevitably gave him.
Now, at that juncture, and, in fact, up to the present moment, there was, and is, a most fierce and bitter outcry, and detraction loud and low, against General McClellan, accusing him of sloth, imbecility, cowardice, treasonable purposes, and, in short, utterly denying his ability as a soldier, and questioning his integrity as a man. Nor was this to be wondered at; for when before, in all history, do we find a general in command of half a million of men, and in presence of an enemy inferior in numbers and no better disciplined than his own troops, leaving it still debatable, after the better part of a year, whether he is a soldier or no? The question would seem to answer itself in the very asking. Nevertheless, being most profoundly ignorant of the art of war, like the majority of the General's critics, and, on the other hand, having some considerable impressibility by men's characters, I was glad of the opportunity to look him in the face, and to feel whatever influence might reach me from his sphere. So I stared at him, as the phrase goes, with all the eyes I had; and the reader shall have the benefit of what I saw,—to which he is the more welcome, because, in writing this article, I feel disposed to be singularly frank, and can scarcely restrain myself from telling truths the utterance of which I should get slender thanks for.
The General was dressed in a simple, dark-blue uniform, without epaulets, booted to the knee, and with a cloth cap upon his head; and, at first sight, you might have taken him for a corporal of dragoons, of particularly neat and soldier-like aspect, and in the prime of his age and strength. He is only of middling stature, but his build is very compact and sturdy, with broad shoulders and a look of great physical vigor, which, in fact, he is said to possess,—he and Beauregard having been rivals in that particular, and both distinguished above other men. His complexion is dark and sanguine, with dark hair. He has a strong, bold, soldierly face, full of decision; a Roman nose, by no means a thin prominence, but very thick and firm; and if he follows it, (which I should think likely,) it may be pretty confidently trusted to guide him aright. His profile would make a more effective likeness than the full face, which, however, is much better in the real man than in any photograph that I have seen. His forehead is not remarkably large, but comes forward at the eyebrows; it is not the brow nor countenance of a prominently intellectual man, (not a natural student, I mean, or abstract thinker,) but of one whose office it is to handle things practically and to bring about tangible results. His face looked capable of being very stern, but wore, in its repose, when I saw it, an aspect pleasant and dignified; it is not, in its character, an American face, nor an English one. The man on whom he fixes his eye is conscious of him. In his natural disposition, he seems calm and self-possessed, sustaining his great responsibilities cheerfully, without shrinking, or weariness, or spasmodic effort, or damage to his health, but all with quiet, deep-drawn breaths; just as his broad shoulders would bear up a heavy burden without aching beneath it.
After we had had sufficient time to peruse the man, (so far as it could be done with one pair of very attentive eyes,) the General rode off, followed by his cavalcade, and was lost to sight among the troops. They received him with loud shouts, by the eager uproar of which—now near, now in the centre, now on the outskirts of the division, and now sweeping back towards us in a great volume of sound—we could trace his progress through the ranks. If he is a coward, or a traitor, or a humbug, or anything less than a brave, true, and able man, that mass of intelligent soldiers, whose lives and honor he had in charge, were utterly deceived, and so was this present writer; for they believed in him, and so did I; and had I stood in the ranks, I should have shouted with the lustiest of them. Of course I may be mistaken; my opinion on such a point is worth nothing, although my impression may be worth a little more; neither do I consider the General's antecedents as bearing very decided testimony to his practical soldiership. A thorough knowledge of the science of war seems to be conceded to him; he is allowed to be a good military critic; but all this is possible without his possessing any positive qualities of a great general, just as a literary critic may show the profoundest acquaintance with the principles of epic poetry without being able to produce a single stanza of an epic poem. Nevertheless, I shall not give up my faith in General McClellan's soldiership until he is defeated, nor in his courage and integrity even then.
Another of our excursions was to Harper's Ferry,—the Directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad having kindly invited us to accompany them on the first trip over the newly laid track, after its breaking up by the Rebels. It began to rain, in the early morning, pretty soon after we left Washington, and continued to pour a cataract throughout the day; so that the aspect of the country was dreary, where it would otherwise have been delightful, as we entered among the hill-scenery that is formed by the subsiding swells of the Alleghanies. The latter part of our journey lay along the shore of the Potomac, in its upper course, where the margin of that noble river is bordered by gray, overhanging crags, beneath which—and sometimes right through them—the railroad takes its way. In one place the Rebels had attempted to arrest a train by precipitating an immense mass of rock down upon the track, by the side of which it still lay, deeply imbedded in the ground, and looking as if it might have lain there since the Deluge. The scenery grew even more picturesque as we proceeded, the bluffs becoming very bold in their descent upon the river, which, at Harper's Ferry, presents as striking a vista among the hills as a painter could desire to see. But a beautiful landscape is a luxury, and luxuries are thrown away amid discomfort; and when we alighted into the tenacious mud and almost fathomless puddle, on the hither side of the Ferry, (the ultimate point to which the cars proceeded, since the railroad bridge had been destroyed by the Rebels,) I cannot remember that any very rapturous emotions were awakened by the scenery.
We paddled and floundered over the ruins of the track, and, scrambling down an embankment, crossed the Potomac by a pontoon-bridge, a thousand feet in length, over the narrow line of which—level with the river, and rising and subsiding with it—General Banks had recently led his whole army, with its ponderous artillery and heavily laden wagons. Yet our own tread made it vibrate. The broken bridge of the railroad was a little below us, and at the base of one of its massive piers, in the rocky bed of the river, lay a locomotive, which the Rebels had precipitated there.
As we passed over, we looked towards the Virginia shore, and beheld the little town of Harper's Ferry, gathered about the base of a round hill and climbing up its steep acclivity; so that it somewhat resembled the Etruscan cities which I have seen among the Apennines, rushing, as it were, down an apparently break-neck height. About midway of the ascent stood a shabby brick church, towards which a difficult path went scrambling up the precipice, indicating, one would say, a very fervent aspiration on the part of the worshippers, unless there was some easier mode of access in another direction. Immediately on the shore of the Potomac, and extending back towards the town, lay the dismal ruins of the United States arsenal and armory, consisting of piles of broken bricks and a waste of shapeless demolition, amid which we saw gun-barrels in heaps of hundreds together. They were the relics of the conflagration, bent with the heat of the fire, and rusted with the wintry rain to which they had since been exposed. The brightest sunshine could not have made the scene cheerful, nor have taken away the gloom from the dilapidated town; for, besides the natural shabbiness, and decayed, unthrifty look of a Virginian village, it has an inexpressible forlornness resulting from the devastations of war and its occupation by both armies alternately. Yet there would be a less striking contrast between Southern and New-England villages, if the former were as much in the habit of using white paint as we are. It is prodigiously efficacious in putting a bright face upon a bad matter.
There was one small shop, which appeared to have nothing for sale. A single man and one or two boys were all the inhabitants in view, except the Yankee sentinels and soldiers, belonging to Massachusetts regiments, who were scattered about pretty numerously. A guard-house stood on the slope of the hill; and in the level street at its base were the offices of the Provost-Marshal and other military authorities, to whom we forthwith reported ourselves. The Provost-Marshal kindly sent a corporal to guide us to the little building which John Brown seized upon as his fortress, and which, after it was stormed by the United States marines, became his temporary prison. It is an old engine-house, rusty and shabby, like every other work of man's hands in this God-forsaken town, and stands fronting upon the river, only a short distance from the bank, nearly at the point where the pontoon-bridge touches the Virginia shore. In its front wall, on each side of the door, are two or three ragged loop-holes which John Brown perforated for his defence, knocking out merely a brick or two, so as to give himself and his garrison a sight over their rifles. Through these orifices the sturdy old man dealt a good deal of deadly mischief among his assailants, until they broke down the door by thrusting against it with a ladder, and tumbled headlong in upon him. I shall not pretend to be an admirer of old John Brown, any farther than sympathy with Whittier's excellent ballad about him may go; nor did I expect ever to shrink so unutterably from any apophthegm of a sage, whose happy lips have uttered a hundred golden sentences, as from that saying, (perhaps falsely attributed to so honored a source,) that the death of this blood-stained fanatic has "made the Gallows as venerable as the Cross!" Nobody was ever more justly hanged. He won his martyrdom fairly, and took it firmly. He himself, I am persuaded, (such was his natural integrity,) would have acknowledged that Virginia had a right to take the life which he had staked and lost; although it would have been better for her, in the hour that is fast coming, if she could generously have forgotten the criminality of his attempt in its enormous folly. On the other hand, any common-sensible man, looking at the matter unsentimentally, must have felt a certain intellectual satisfaction in seeing him hanged, if it were only in requital of his preposterous miscalculation of possibilities. [Footnote: Can it be a son of old Massachusetts who utters this abominable sentiment? For shame!]
But, coolly as I seem to say these things, my Yankee heart stirred triumphantly when I saw the use to which John Brown's fortress and prison-house has now been put. What right have I to complain of any other man's foolish impulses, when I cannot possibly control my own? The engine-house is now a place of confinement for Rebel prisoners.
A Massachusetts soldier stood on guard, but readily permitted our whole party to enter. It was a wretched place. A room of perhaps twenty-five feet square occupied the whole interior of the building, having an iron stove in its centre, whence a rusty funnel ascended towards a hole in the roof, which served the purposes of ventilation, as well as for the exit of smoke. We found ourselves right in the midst of the Rebels, some of whom lay on heaps of straw, asleep, or, at all events, giving no sign of consciousness; others sat in the corners of the room, huddled close together, and staring with a lazy kind of interest at the visitors; two were astride of some planks, playing with the dirtiest pack of cards that I ever happened to see. There was only one figure in the least military among all these twenty prisoners of war,—a man with a dark, intelligent, moustached face, wearing a shabby cotton uniform, which he had contrived to arrange with a degree of soldierly smartness, though it had evidently borne the brunt of a very filthy campaign. He stood erect, and talked freely with those who addressed him, telling them his place of residence, the number of his regiment, the circumstances of his capture, and such other particulars as their Northern inquisitiveness prompted them to ask. I liked the manliness of his deportment; he was neither ashamed, nor afraid, nor in the slightest degree sullen, peppery, or contumacious, but bore himself as if whatever animosity he had felt towards his enemies was left upon the battle-field, and would not be resumed till he had again a weapon in his hand.
Neither could I detect a trace of hostile feeling in the countenance, words, or manner of any prisoner there. Almost to a man, they were simple, bumpkin-like fellows, dressed in homespun clothes, with faces singularly vacant of meaning, but sufficiently good-humored: a breed of men, in short, such as I did not suppose to exist in this country, although I have seen their like in some other parts of the world. They were peasants, and of a very low order: a class of people with whom our Northern rural population has not a single trait in common. They were exceedingly respectful,—more so than a rustic New-Englander ever dreams of being towards anybody, except perhaps his minister; and had they worn any hats, they would probably have been self-constrained to take them off, under the unusual circumstance of being permitted to hold conversation with well-dressed persons. It is my belief that not a single bumpkin of them all (the moustached soldier always excepted) had the remotest comprehension of what they had been fighting for, or how they had deserved to be shut up in that dreary hole; nor, possibly, did they care to inquire into this latter mystery, but took it as a godsend to be suffered to lie here in a heap of unwashed human bodies, well warmed and well foddered to-day, and without the necessity of bothering themselves about the possible hunger and cold of to-morrow. Their dark prison-life may have seemed to them the sunshine of all their lifetime.
There was one poor wretch, a wild-beast of a man, at whom I gazed with greater interest than at his fellows; although I know not that each one of them, in their semi-barbarous moral state, might not have been capable of the same savage impulse that had made this particular individual a horror to all beholders. At the close of some battle or skirmish, a wounded Union soldier had crept on hands and knees to his feet, and besought his assistance,—not dreaming that any creature in human shape, in the Christian land where they had so recently been brethren, could refuse it. But this man (this fiend, if you prefer to call him so, though I would not advise it) flung a bitter curse at the poor Northerner, and absolutely trampled the soul out of his body, as he lay writhing beneath his feet. The fellow's face was horribly ugly; but I am not quite sure that I should have noticed it, if I had not known his story. He spoke not a word, and met nobody's eye, but kept staring upward into the smoky vacancy towards the ceiling, where, it might be, he beheld a continual portraiture of his victim's horror-stricken agonies. I rather fancy, however, that his moral sense was yet too torpid to trouble him with such remorseful visions, and that, for his own part, he might have had very agreeable reminiscences of the soldier's death, if other eyes had not been bent reproachfully upon him and warned him that something was amiss. It was this reproach in other men's eyes that made him look aside. He was a wild-beast, as I began with saying,—an unsophisticated wild-beast,—while the rest of us are partially tamed, though still the scent of blood excites some of the savage instincts of our nature. What this wretch needed, in order to make him capable of the degree of mercy and benevolence that exists in us, was simply such a measure of moral and intellectual development as we have received; and, in my mind, the present war is so well justified by no other consideration as by the probability that it will free this class of Southern whites from a thraldom in which they scarcely begin to be responsible beings. So far as the education of the heart is concerned, the negroes have apparently the advantage of them; and as to other schooling, it is practically unattainable by black or white.
Looking round at these poor prisoners, therefore, it struck me as an immense absurdity that they should fancy us their enemies; since, whether we intend it so or no, they have a far greater stake on our success than we can possibly have. For ourselves, the balance of advantages between defeat and triumph may admit of question. For them, all truly valuable things are dependent on our complete success; for thence would come the regeneration of a people,—the removal of a foul scurf that has overgrown their life, and keeps them in a state of disease and decrepitude, one of the chief symptoms of which is, that, the more they suffer and are debased, the more they imagine themselves strong and beautiful. No human effort, on a grand scale, has ever yet resulted according to the purpose of its projectors. The advantages are always incidental. Man's accidents are God's purposes. We miss the good we sought, and do the good we little cared for. [Footnote: The author seems to imagine that he has compressed a great deal of meaning into these little, hard, dry pellets of aphoristic wisdom. We disagree with him. The counsels of wise and good men are often coincident with the purposes of Providence; and the present war promises to illustrate our remark.]
Our Government evidently knows when and where to lay its finger upon its most available citizens; for, quite unexpectedly, we were joined with some other gentlemen, scarcely less competent than ourselves, in a commission to proceed to Fortress Monroe and examine into things in general. Of course, official propriety compels us to be extremely guarded in our description of the interesting objects which this expedition opened to our view. There can be no harm, however, in stating that we were received by the commander of the fortress with a kind of acid good-nature, or mild cynicism, that indicated him to be a humorist, characterized by certain rather pungent peculiarities, yet of no unamiable cast. He is a small, thin old gentleman, set off by a large pair of brilliant epaulets,—the only pair, so far as my observation went, that adorn the shoulders of any officer in the Union army. Either for our inspection, or because the matter had already been arranged, he drew out a regiment of Zouaves that formed the principal part of his garrison, and appeared at their head, sitting on horseback with rigid perpendicularity, and affording us a vivid idea of the disciplinarian of Baron Steuben's school.
There can be no question of the General's military qualities; he must have been especially useful in converting raw recruits into trained and efficient soldiers. But valor and martial skill are of so evanescent a character, (hardly less fleeting than a woman's beauty,) that Government has perhaps taken the safer course in assigning to this gallant officer, though distinguished in former wars, no more active duty than the guardianship of an apparently impregnable fortress. The ideas of military men solidify and fossilize so fast, while military science makes such rapid advances, that even here there might be a difficulty. An active, diversified, and therefore a youthful, ingenuity is required by the quick exigencies of this singular war. Fortress Monroe, for example, in spite of the massive solidity of its ramparts, its broad and deep moat, and all the contrivances of defence that were known at the not very remote epoch of its construction, is now pronounced absolutely incapable of resisting the novel modes of assault which may be brought to bear upon it. It can only be the flexible talent of a young man that will evolve a new efficiency out of its obsolete strength.
It is a pity that old men grow unfit for war, not only by their incapacity for new ideas, but by the peaceful and unadventurous tendencies that gradually possess themselves of the once turbulent disposition, which used to snuff the battle-smoke as its congenial atmosphere. It is a pity; because it would be such an economy of human existence, if time-stricken people (whose value I have the better right to estimate, as reckoning myself one of them) could snatch from their juniors the exclusive privilege of carrying on the war. In case of death upon the battle-field, how unequal would be the comparative sacrifice! On one part, a few unenjoyable years, the little remnant of a life grown torpid; on the other, the many fervent summers of manhood in its spring and prime, with all that they include of possible benefit to mankind. Then, too, a bullet offers such a brief and easy way, such a pretty little orifice, through which the weary spirit might seize the opportunity to be exhaled! If I had the ordering of these matters, fifty should be the tenderest age at which a recruit might be accepted for training; at fifty-five or sixty, I would consider him eligible for most kinds of military duty and exposure, excluding that of a forlorn hope, which no soldier should be permitted to volunteer upon, short of the ripe age of seventy. As a general rule, these venerable combatants should have the preference for all dangerous and honorable service in the order of their seniority, with a distinction in favor of those whose infirmities might render their lives less worth the keeping. Methinks there would be no more Bull Runs; a warrior with gout in his toe, or rheumatism in his joints, or with one foot in the grave, would make a sorry fugitive!
On this admirable system, the productive part of the population would be undisturbed even by the bloodiest war; and, best of all, those thousands upon thousands of our Northern girls, whose proper mates will perish in camp-hospitals or on Southern battle-fields, would avoid their doom of forlorn old-maidenhood. But, no doubt, the plan will be pooh-poohed down by the War Department; though it could scarcely be more disastrous than the one on which we began the war, when a young army was struck with paralysis through the age of its commander.
The waters around Fortress Monroe were thronged with a gallant array of ships of war and transports, wearing the Union flag,—"Old Glory," as I hear it called in these days. A little withdrawn from our national fleet lay two French frigates, and, in another direction, an English sloop, under that banner which always makes itself visible, like a red portent in the air, wherever there is strife. In pursuance of our official duty, (which had no ascertainable limits,) we went on board the flag-ship, and were shown over every part of her, and down into her depths, inspecting her gallant crew, her powerful armament, her mighty engines, and her furnaces, where the fires are always kept burning, as well at midnight as at noon, so that it would require only five minutes to put the vessel under full steam. This vigilance has been felt necessary ever since the Merrimack made that terrible dash from Norfolk. Splendid as she is, however, and provided with all but the very latest improvements in naval armament, the Minnesota belongs to a class of vessels that will be built no more, nor ever fight another battle,—being as much a thing of the past as any of the ships of Queen Elizabeth's time, which grappled with the galleons of the Spanish Armada.
On her quarter-deck, an elderly flag-officer was pacing to and fro, with a self-conscious dignity to which a touch of the gout or rheumatism perhaps contributed a little additional stiffness. He seemed to be a gallant gentleman, but of the old, slow, and pompous school of naval worthies, who have grown up amid rules, forms, and etiquette which were adopted full-blown from the British navy into ours, and are somewhat too cumbrous for the quick spirit of to-day. This order of nautical heroes will probably go down, along with the ships in which they fought valorously and strutted most intolerably. How can an admiral condescend to go to sea in an iron pot? What space and elbow-room can be found for quarter-deck dignity in the cramped lookout of the Monitor, or even in the twenty-feet diameter of her cheese-box? All the pomp and splendor of naval warfare are gone by. Henceforth there must come up a race of enginemen and smoke-blackened cannoneers, who will hammer away at their enemies under the direction of a single pair of eyes; and even heroism—so deadly a gripe is Science laying on our noble possibilities—will become a quality of very minor importance, when its possessor cannot break through the iron crust of his own armament and give the world a glimpse of it.
At no great distance from the Minnesota lay the strangest-looking craft I ever saw. It was a platform of iron, so nearly on a level with the water that the swash of the waves broke over it, under the impulse of a very moderate breeze; and on this platform was raised a circular structure, likewise of iron, and rather broad and capacious, but of no great height. It could not be called a vessel at all; it was a machine,—and I have seen one of somewhat similar appearance employed in cleaning out the docks; or, for lack of a better similitude, it looked like a gigantic rat-trap. It was ugly, questionable, suspicious, evidently mischievous,—nay, I will allow myself to call it devilish; for this was the new war-fiend, destined, along with others of the same breed, to annihilate whole navies and batter down old supremacies. The wooden walls of Old England cease to exist, and a whole history of naval renown reaches its period, now that the Monitor comes smoking into view; while the billows dash over what seems her deck, and storms bury even her turret in green water, as she burrows and snorts along, oftener under the surface than above. The singularity of the object has betrayed me into a more ambitious vein of description than I often indulge; and, after all, I might as well have contented myself with simply saying that she looked very queer.
Going on board, we were surprised at the extent and convenience of her interior accommodations. There is a spacious ward-room, nine or ten feet in height, besides a private cabin for the commander, and sleeping accommodations on an ample scale; the whole well lighted and ventilated, though beneath the surface of the water. Forward, or aft, (for it is impossible to tell stem from stern,) the crew are relatively quite as well provided for as the officers. It was like finding a palace, with all its conveniences, under the sea. The inaccessibility, the apparent impregnability, of this submerged iron fortress are most satisfactory; the officers and crew get down through a little hole in the deck, hermetically seal themselves, and go below; and until they see fit to reappear, there would seem to be no power given to man whereby they can be brought to light. A storm of cannon-shot damages them no more than a handful of dried peas. We saw the shot-marks made by the great artillery of the Merrimack on the outer casing of the iron tower; they were about the breadth and depth of shallow saucers, almost imperceptible dents, with no corresponding bulge on the interior surface. In fact, the thing looked altogether too safe; though it may not prove quite an agreeable predicament to be thus boxed up in impenetrable iron, with the possibility, one would imagine, of being sent to the bottom of the sea, and, even there, not drowned, but stifled. Nothing, however, can exceed the confidence of the officers in this new craft. It was pleasant to see their benign exultation in her powers of mischief, and the delight with which they exhibited the circumvolutory movement of the tower, the quick thrusting forth of the immense guns to deliver their ponderous missiles, and then the immediate recoil, and the security behind the closed port-holes. Yet even this will not long be the last and most terrible improvement in the science of war. Already we hear of vessels the armament of which is to act entirely beneath the surface of the water; so that, with no other external symptoms than a great bubbling and foaming, and gush of smoke, and belch of smothered thunder out of the yeasty waves, there shall be a deadly fight going on below,—and, by-and-by, a sucking whirlpool, as one of the ships goes down.
The Monitor was certainly an object of great interest; but on our way to Newport News, whither we next went, we saw a spectacle that affected us with far profounder emotion. It was the sight of the few sticks that are left of the frigate Congress, stranded near the shore,—and still more, the masts of the Cumberland rising midway out of the water, with a tattered rag of a pennant fluttering from one of them. The invisible hull of the latter ship seems to be careened over, so that the three masts stand slantwise; the rigging looks quite unimpaired, except that a few ropes dangle loosely from the yards. The flag (which never was struck, thank Heaven!) is entirely hidden under the waters of the bay, but is still doubtless waving in its old place, although it floats to and fro with the swell and reflux of the tide, instead of rustling on the breeze. A remnant of the dead crew still man the sunken ship, and sometimes a drowned body floats up to the surface.
That was a noble fight. When was ever a better word spoken than that of Commodore Smith, the father of the commander of the Congress, when he heard that his son's ship was surrendered? "Then Joe's dead!" said he; and so it proved. Nor can any warrior be more certain of enduring renown than the gallant Morris, who fought so well the final battle of the old system of naval warfare, and won glory for his country and himself out of inevitable disaster and defeat. That last gun from the Cumberland, when her deck was half submerged, sounded the requiem of many sinking ships. Then went down all the navies of Europe, and our own, Old Ironsides and all, and Trafalgar and a thousand other fights became only a memory, never to be acted over again; and thus our brave countrymen come last in the long procession of heroic sailors that includes Blake and Nelson, and so many mariners of England, and other mariners as brave as they, whose renown is our native inheritance. There will be other battles, but no more such tests of seamanship and manhood as the battles of the past; and, moreover, the Millennium is certainly approaching, because human strife is to be transferred from the heart and personality of man into cunning contrivances of machinery, which by-and-by will fight out our wars with only the clank and smash of iron, strewing the field with broken engines, but damaging nobody's little finger except by accident. Such is obviously the tendency of modern improvement. But, in the mean while, so long as manhood retains any part of its pristine value, no country can afford to let gallantry like that of Morris and his crew, any more than that of the brave Worden, pass unhonored and unrewarded. If the Government do nothing, let the people take the matter into their own hands, and cities give him swords, gold boxes, festivals of triumph, and, if he needs it, heaps of gold. Let poets brood upon the theme, and make themselves sensible how much of the past and future is contained within its compass, till its spirit shall flash forth in the lightning of a song!
From these various excursions, and a good many others, (including one to Manassas,) we gained a pretty lively idea of what was going on; but, after all, if compelled to pass a rainy day in the hall and parlors of Willard's Hotel, it proved about as profitably spent as if we had floundered through miles of Virginia mud, in quest of interesting matter. This hotel, in fact, may be much more justly called the centre of Washington and the Union than either the Capitol, the White House, or the State Department. Everybody may be seen there. It is the meeting-place of the true representatives of the country,—not such as are chosen blindly and amiss by electors who take a folded ballot from the hand of a local politician, and thrust it into the ballot-box unread, but men who gravitate or are attracted hither by real business, or a native impulse to breathe the intensest atmosphere of the nation's life, or a genuine anxiety to see how this life-and-death struggle is going to deal with us. Nor these only, but all manner of loafers. Never, in any other spot, was there such a miscellany of people. You exchange nods with governors of sovereign States; you elbow illustrious men, and tread on the toes of generals; you hear statesmen and orators speaking in their familiar tones. You are mixed up with office-seekers, wire-pullers, inventors, artists, poets, prosers, (including editors, army-correspondents, attachs of foreign journals, and long-winded talkers,) clerks, diplomatists, mail-contractors, railway-directors, until your own identity is lost among them. Occasionally you talk with a man whom you have never before heard of, and are struck by the brightness of a thought, and fancy that there is more wisdom hidden among the obscure than is anywhere revealed among the famous. You adopt the universal habit of the place, and call for a mint-julep, a whiskey-skin, a gin-cocktail, a brandy-smash, or a glass of pure Old Rye; for the conviviality of Washington sets in at an early hour, and, so far as I had an opportunity of observing, never terminates at any hour, and all these drinks are continually in request by almost all these people. A constant atmosphere of cigar-smoke, too, envelopes the motley crowd, and forms a sympathetic medium, in which men meet more closely and talk more frankly than in any other kind of air. If legislators would smoke in session, they might speak truer words, and fewer of them, and bring about more valuable results.
It is curious to observe what antiquated figures and costumes sometimes make their appearance at Willard's. You meet elderly men with frilled shirt-fronts, for example, the fashion of which adornment passed away from among the people of this world half a century ago. It is as if one of Stuart's portraits were walking abroad. I see no way of accounting for this, except that the trouble of the times, the impiety of traitors, and the peril of our sacred Union and Constitution have disturbed, in their honored graves, some of the venerable fathers of the country, and summoned them forth to protest against the meditated and half-accomplished sacrilege. If it be so, their wonted fires are not altogether extinguished in their ashes,—in their throats, I might rather say;—for I beheld one of these excellent old men quaffing such a horn of Bourbon whiskey as a toper of the present century would be loath to venture upon. But, really, one would be glad to know where these strange figures come from. It shows, at any rate, how many remote, decaying villages and country-neighborhoods of the North, and forest-nooks of the West, and old mansion-houses in cities, are shaken by the tremor of our native soil, so that men long hidden in retirement put on the garments of their youth and hurry out to inquire what is the matter. The old men whom we see here have generally more marked faces than the young ones, and naturally enough; since it must be an extraordinary vigor and renewability of life that can overcome the rusty sloth of age, and keep the senior flexible enough to take an interest in new things; whereas hundreds of commonplace young men come hither to stare with eyes of vacant wonder, and with vague hopes of finding out what they are fit for. And this war (we may say so much in its favor) has been the means of discovering that important secret to not a few.
We saw at Willard's many who had thus found out for themselves, that, when Nature gives a young man no other utilizable faculty, she must be understood as intending him for a soldier. The bulk of the army had moved out of Washington before we reached the city; yet it seemed to me that at least two-thirds of the guests and idlers at the hotel wore one or another token of the military profession. Many of them, no doubt, were self-commissioned officers, and had put on the buttons and the shoulder-straps, and booted themselves to the knees, merely because captain, in these days, is so good a travelling-name. The majority, however, had been duly appointed by the President, but might be none the better warriors for that. It was pleasant, occasionally, to distinguish a grizzly veteran among this crowd of carpet-knights, —the trained soldier of a lifetime, long ago from West Point, who had spent his prime upon the frontier, and very likely could show an Indian bullet-mark on his breast,—if such decorations, won in an obscure warfare, were worth the showing now.
The question often occurred to me,—and, to say the truth, it added an indefinable piquancy to the scene,—what proportion of all these people, whether soldiers or civilians, were true at heart to the Union, and what part were tainted, more or less, with treasonable sympathies and wishes, even if such had never blossomed into purpose. Traitors there were among them,—no doubt of that,—civil servants of the public, very reputable persons, who yet deserved to dangle from a cord; or men who buttoned military coats over their breasts, hiding perilous secrets there, which might bring the gallant officer to stand pale-faced before a file of musketeers, with his open grave behind him. But, without insisting upon such picturesque criminality and punishment as this, an observer, who kept both his eyes and heart open, would find it by no means difficult to discern that many residents and visitors of Washington so far sided with the South as to desire nothing more nor better than to see everything reestablished on a little worse than its former basis. If the cabinet of Richmond were transferred to the Federal city, and the North awfully snubbed, at least, and driven back within its old political limits, they would deem it a happy day. It is no wonder, and, if we look at the matter generously, no unpardonable crime. Very excellent people hereabouts remember the many dynasties in which the Southern character has been predominant, and contrast the genial courtesy, the warm and graceful freedom of that region, with what they call (though I utterly disagree with them) the frigidity of our Northern manners, and the Western plainness of the President. They have a conscientious, though mistaken belief, that the South was driven out of the Union by intolerable wrong on our part, and that we are responsible for having compelled true patriots to love only half their country instead of the whole, and brave soldiers to draw their swords against the Constitution which they would once have died for,—to draw them, too, with a bitterness of animosity which is the only symptom of brotherhood (since brothers hate each other best) that any longer exists. They whisper these things with tears in their eyes, and shake their heads, and stoop their poor old shoulders, at the tidings of another and another Northern victory, which, in their opinion, puts farther off the remote, the already impossible chance of a reunion.
I am sorry for them, though it is by no means a sorrow without hope. Since the matter has gone so far, there seems to be no way but to go on winning victories, and establishing peace and a truer union in another generation, at the expense, probably, of greater trouble, in the present one, than any other people ever voluntarily suffered. We woo the South "as the Lion wooes his bride"; it is a rough courtship, but perhaps love and a quiet household may come of it at last. Or, if we stop short of that blessed consummation, heaven was heaven still, as Milton sings, after Lucifer and a third part of the angels had seceded from its golden palaces,—and perhaps all the more heavenly, because so many gloomy brows, and soured, vindictive hearts, had gone to plot ineffectual schemes of mischief elsewhere. [Footnote: We regret the innuendo in the concluding sentence. The war can never be allowed to terminate, except in the complete triumph of Northern principles. We hold the event in our own hands, and may choose whether to terminate it by the methods already so successfully used, or by other means equally within our control, and calculated to be still more speedily efficacious. In truth, the work is already done.
We should be sorry to cast a doubt on the Peaceable Man's loyalty, but he will allow us to say that we consider him premature in his kindly feelings towards traitors and sympathizers with treason. As the author himself says of John Brown, (and, so applied, we thought it an atrociously cold-blooded dictum,) "any common-sensible man would feel an intellectual satisfaction in seeing them hanged, were it only for their preposterous miscalculation of possibilities." There are some degrees of absurdity that put Reason herself into a rage, and affect us like an intolerable crime,—which this Rebellion is, into the bargain.]
I stood within the little cove, Full of the morning's life and hope, While heavily the eager waves Charged thundering up the rocky slope.
The splendid breakers! how they rushed, All emerald green and flashing white, Tumultuous in the morning sun, With cheer, and sparkle, and delight!
And freshly blew the fragrant wind, The wild sea-wind, across their tops, And caught the spray and flung it far, In sweeping showers of glittering drops.
Within the cove all flashed and foamed, With many a fleeting rainbow hue; Without, gleamed, bright against the sky, A tender, wavering line of blue,
Where tossed the distant waves, and far Shone silver-white a quiet sail, And overhead the soaring gulls With graceful pinions stemmed the gale.
And all my pulses thrilled with joy, Watching the wind's and water's strife,— With sudden rapture,—and I cried, "Oh, sweet is Life! Thank God for Life!"
Sailed any cloud across the sky, Marring this glory of the sun's? Over the sea, from distant forts, There came the boom of minute-guns!
War-tidings! Many a brave soul fled, And many a heart the message stuns!— I saw no more the joyous waves, I only heard the minute-guns.
A great contemporary writer, so I am told, regards originality as much rarer than is commonly supposed. But, on the contrary, is it not far more frequent than is commonly supposed? For one should not identify originality with mere primacy of conception or utterance, as if a thought could be original but once. In truth, it may be so thousands or millions of times; nay, from the beginning to the end of man's times upon the earth, the same thoughts may continue rising from the same fountains in his spirit. Of the central or stem thoughts of consciousness, of the imperial presiding imaginations, this is actually true. Ceaseless re-origination is the method of Nature. This alone keeps history alive. For if every Mohammedan were but a passive appendage to the dead Mohammed, if every disciple were but a copy in plaster of his teacher, and if history were accordingly living and original only in such degree as it is an unprecedented invention, the laws of decay should at once be made welcome to the world.
The fact is otherwise. As new growths upon the oldest cedar or baobab do not merely spin themselves out of the wood already formed,—as they thrive and constitute themselves only by original conversation with sun, earth, and air,—that is, in the same way with any seed or sapling,—so generations of Moslems, Parsees, or Calvinists, while obeying the structural law of their system, yet quaff from the mystical fountains of pure Life the sustenance by which they live. Merely out of itself the tree can give nothing,—literally, nothing. True, if cut down, it may, under favorable circumstances, continue for a time to feed the growing shoots out of its own decay. Yet not even at the cost of decay and speedy exhaustion could the old trunk accomplish this little, but for the draft made upon it by the new growths. It is their life, it is the relationship which they assert with sun and rain and all the elements, which is foremost in bringing about even this result. So it is with the great old literatures, with the old systems of philosophy and faith. They are simply avenues, or structural forms, through which succeeding generations of souls come into conversation with eternal Nature, and express their original life.
Observe, again, that the tree lives only while new shoots are produced upon it. The new twigs and leaves not only procure sustenance for themselves, but even keep the trunk itself alive: so that the chief order of support is just opposite what it seems; and the tree lives from above, down,—as do men and all other creatures. So in history, it requires a vast amount of original thought or sentiment to sustain the old structural forms. This gigantic baobab of Catholicism, for example, is kept alive by the conversion of Life into Belief, which takes place age after age in the bosoms of women and men. The trunk was long ago in extensive decay; every wind menaces it with overthrow; but the hearts that bud and blossom upon it yearly send down to the earth and up to the sky such a claim for resource as surrounds the dying trunk with ever new layers of supporting growth. Equally are the thought, poetry, rhetoric of by-gone times kept in significance by the perceiving, the imagining, and the sense of a flowing symbolism in Nature, which our own time brings to them. To make Homer alive to this age,—what an expenditure of imagination, of pure feeling and penetration does it demand! Let the Homeric heart or genius die out of mankind, and from that moment the "Iliad" is but dissonance, the long melodious roll of its echoes becomes a jarring chop of noises. What chiefly makes Homer great is the vast ideal breadth of relationship in which he establishes human beings. But he in whose narrow brain is no space for high Olympus and deep Orcus,—he whose coarse fibre never felt the shudder of the world at the shaking of the ambrosial locks, nor a thrill in the air when a hero fails,—what can this grand stoop of the ideal upon the actual world signify to him? To what but an ethical genius in men can appeal for guest-rites be made by the noble "Meditations" of Marcus Antoninus, or the exquisite, and perhaps incomparable, "Christian Morals" of Sir Thomas Browne? Appreciative genius is centrally the same with productive genius; and it is the Shakspeare in men alone that prints Shakspeare and reads him. So it is that the works of the masters are, as it were, perpetually re-written and renewed in life by the genius of mankind.
In saying that constant re-origination is the method of Nature, I do not overlook the element nor underrate the importance of Imitation. This it is that secures continuity, connection, and structural unity. By vital imitation the embryonic man assumes the features and traits of his progenitors. After birth the infant remains in the matrix of the household; after infancy the glowing youth is held in that of society; and processes kindred with those which bestowed likeness to father and mother go on to assimilate him with a social circle or an age. Complaint is made, and by good men, of that implicit acquiescence which keeps in existence Islam, Catholicism, and the like, long after their due time has come to die; yet, abolish the law of imitation which causes this, and the immediate disintegration of mankind will follow. Mortar is much in the way, when we wish to take an old building to pieces and make other use of the bricks; do you therefore advise its disuse?
But imitation would preserve nothing, did not the law of re-origination keep it company. We are not born from our parents alone, but from the loins of eternal Nature no less. Was Orpheus the grandson of Zeus and Mnemosyne,—of sovereign Unity and immortal Memory? Equally is Shakspeare and every genuine bard. Could the heroes of old Greece trace their derivation from the gods?
Little of a hero is he, even in these times of ours, who is not of the like lineage. And indeed, one and all, we have a father and mother whose marriage-morn is of more ancient date than our calendars, and of whose spousal solemnities this universe is the memorial. All life, indeed, whatsoever be its form and rank, has, along with connections of pedigree and lateral association, one tap-root that strikes straight down into the eternal.
Because Life is of this unsounded depth, it may well afford to repeat the same forms forever, nor incurs thereby any danger of exhausting its significance and becoming stale. Vital repetition, accordingly, goes on in Nature in a way not doubtful and diffident, but frank, open, sure, as if the game were one that could not be played out. It is now a very long while that buds have burst and grass grown; yet Spring comes forward still without bashfulness, fearing no charge of having plagiarized from her predecessors. The field blushes not for its blades, though they are such as for immemorial times have spired from the sod; the boughs publish their annual book of many a verdant scroll without apprehension of having become commonplace at last; the bobolink pours his warble in cheery sureness of acceptance, unmindful that it is the same warble with which the throats of other bobolinks were throbbing before there was a man to listen and smile; and night after night forever the stars, and age after age the eyes of women and men, shine on without apology, or the least promise that this shall be positively their last appearance. Life knows itself original always, nor a whit the less so for any repetition of its elected and significant forms. Youth and newness are, indeed, inseparable from it. Death alone is senile; and we become physically aged only by the presence and foothold of this dogged intruder in our bodies. The body is a fortress for the possession of which Death is perpetually contending; only the incessant activity of Life at every foot of the rampart keeps him at bay; but, with, the advance of years, the assailants gain, here and there a foothold, pressing the defenders back; and just in proportion as this defeat take a place the man becomes old. But Life sets out from the same basis of mystery to build each new body, no matter how many myriads of such forms have been built before; and forsaking it finally, is no less young, inscrutable, enticing than before.
Now Thought, as part of the supreme flowering of Life, follows its law. It cannot be anticipated by any anticipation of its forms and results. There were hazel-brown eyes in the world before my boy was born; but the light that shines in these eyes comes direct from the soul nevertheless. The light of true thought, in like manner, issues only from an inward sun; and shining, it carries always its perfect privilege, its charm and sacredness. Would you have purple or yellow eyes, because the accustomed colors have been so often repeated? Black, blue, brown, gray, forever! May the angels in heaven have no other! Forever, too, and equally, the perpetual loves, thoughts, and melodies of men! Let them come out of their own mystical, ineffable haunts,—let them, that is, be real,—and we ask no more.
The question of originality is, therefore, simply one of vitality. Does the fruit really grow on the tree? does it indeed come by vital process?—little more than this does it concern us to know. Truths become cold and commonplace, not by any number of rekindlings in men's bosoms, but by out-of-door reflections without inward kindling. Saying is the royal son of Seeing; but there is many a pretender to the throne; and when these supposititious people usurp, age after age, the honors that are not theirs, the throne and government are disgraced.
Truisms are corpses of truths; and statements are to be found in every stage of approach to this final condition. Every time there is an impotency or unreality in their enunciation, they are borne a step nearer the sepulchre. If the smirking politician, who wishes to delude me into voting for him, bid me his bland "Good-morning," not only does he draw a film of eclipse over the sun, and cast a shadow on city and field, but he throws over the salutation itself a more permanent shadow; and were the words never to reach us save from such lips, they would, in no long time, become terms of insult or of malediction. But so often as the sweet greeting comes from wife, child, or friend, its proper savors are restored. A jesting editor says that "You tell a telegram" is the polite way of giving the lie; and it is quite possible that his witticism only anticipates a serious use of language some century hence. Terms and statements are perpetually saturated by the uses made of them. Etymology and the dictionary resist effects in vain. And as single words may thus be discharged of their lawful meaning, so the total purport of words, that is, truths themselves, may in like manner be disgraced. If the man of ordinary heart ostentatiously patronize the maxims of perfect charity, if the traditional priest or feeble pietist repeat the word God or recite the raptures of adoring bards, the sentences they maunder and the sentiments they belie are alike covered with rust; and in due time some Shelley will turn atheist in the interest of religion, and some Johnson in the interest of morality aver that he writes for money alone.
But Truth does not share the fortunes of her verbal body. The grand ideas, the master-imaginations and moving faiths of men, run in the blood of the race; and a given degree of pure human heat infallibly brings them out. Not more surely does the rose appear on the rose-bush, or the apple, pear, or peach upon the trees of the orchard, than these fruits of the soul upon nations of powerful and thrifty spirit. For want of vitality the shrub may fail to flower, the tree to bear fruit, and man to bring forth his spiritual product; but if Thought be attained, certain thoughts and imaginations will come of it. Let two nations at opposite sides of the globe, and without intercommunication arrive at equal stages of mental culture, and the language of the one will, on the whole, be equivalent to that of the other, nay, the very rhetoric, the very fancies of the one will, in a broad way of comparison, be tantamount to those of the other. The nearer we get to any past age, the more do we find that the totality of its conceptions and imaginings is much the same with that of our own. There are specific variation and generic unity; and he whom the former blinds to the latter reads the old literatures without eyes, and knows neither his own time nor any other. Owen, Agassiz, Carpenter explain the homologies of anatomy and physiology; but a doctrine of the homologies of thought is equally possible, and will sometime be set forth.
The basis, then, of any sufficient doctrine of literature and literary production is found in two statements:—
First, that the perfect truth of the universe issues, by vital representation, into the personality of man.
Secondly, that this truth tends in every man, though often in the obscurest way, toward intellectual and artistic expression.
Now just so far as by any man's speech we feel ourselves brought into direct relationship with this ever-issuing fact, so far the impressions of originality are produced. That all his words were in the dictionary before he used them,—that all his thoughts, under some form of intimation, were in literature before he arrived at them,—matters not; it is the verity, the vital process, the depth of relationship, which concerns us.
Nay, in one sense, the older his truth, the more do the effects of originality lie open to him. The simple, central, imperial elements of human consciousness are first in order of expression, and continue forever to be first in order of power and suggestion. The great purposes, the great thoughts and melodies issue always from these. This is the quarry which every masterly thinker or poet must work. Homer is Homer because he is so simply true alike to earth and sky,—to the perpetual experience and perpetual imagination of mankind. Had he gone working around the edges, following the occasional dtours and slips of consciousness, there would have been no "Iliad" or "Odyssey" for mankind to love and for Pope to spoil. The great poets tell us nothing new. They remind us. They bear speech deep into our being, and to the heart of our heart lend a tongue. They have words that correspond to facts in all men and women. But they are not newsmongers.
Yesterday, I read in a prose translation of the "Odyssey" the exquisite idyl of Nausicaa and her Maids, and the discovery of himself by Ulysses. Perhaps the picture came out more clearly than ever before; at any rate, it filled my whole day with delight, and to-day I seem to have heard some sweetest good tidings, as if word had come from an old playmate, dear and distant in memory, or a happy and wealthy letter had arrived from a noble friend. Whence this enrichment? There was nothing in this idyl, to which, even on a first reading, I could give the name of "new truth." The secret is, that I have indeed had tidings of old playmates, dear and distant in memory,—of those bright-eyed, brave, imaging playmates of all later ages, the inhabitants of Homer's world. And little can one care for novelties of thought, in comparison with these tones from the deeps of undying youth. Bring to our lips these cups of the fresh wine of life, if you would do good. Bring us these; for it is by perpetual rekindlings of the youth in us that our life grows and unfolds. Each advancing epoch of the inward life is no less than this,—a fresh efflux of adolescence from the immortal and exhaustless heart. Everywhere the law is the same,—Become as a little child, to reach the heavenly kingdoms. This, however, we become not by any return to babyhood, but by an effusion or emergence from within of pure life,—of life which takes from years only their wisdom and their chastening, and gives them in payment its perfect renewal.
This, then, is the proof of originality,—that one shall utter the pure consciousness of man. If he live, and live humanly, in his speech, the speech itself will live; for it will obtain hospitality in all wealthy and true hearts.
But if the most original speech be, as is here explained, of that which is oldest and most familiar in the consciousness of man, it nevertheless does not lack the charm of surprise and all effects of newness. For, in truth, nothing is so strange to men as the very facts they seem to confess every day of their lives. Truisms, I have said, are the corpses of truths; and they are as far from the fact they are taken to represent as the perished body from the risen soul. The mystery of truth is hidden behind them; and when next it shall come forth, it will bring astonishment, as at first. Every time the grand old truths are livingly uttered, the world thinks it never heard them before. The news of the day is hardly spoken before it is antiquated. For this an hour too late is a century, is forever, too late. But truth of life and the heart, the world-old imaginations, the root-thoughts of human consciousness,—these never lose their privilege to surprise, and at every fresh efflux are wellnigh sure to be persecuted by some as unlawful impositions upon the credence of mankind. Nay, the same often happens with the commonest truths of observation. Mr. Ruskin describes leaves and clouds, objects that are daily before all eyes; and the very artists cry, "Fie upon him!" as a propounder of childish novelties: slowly they perceive that it was leaves and clouds which were novel. Luther thunders in the ears of the Church its own creed; the Pope asks, "Is it possible that he believes all this?" and the priesthood scream, "To the stake with the heretic!" A poet prints in the "Atlantic Monthly" a simple affirmation of the indestructibility of man's true life; numbers of those who would have been shocked and exasperated to hear questioned the Church dogma of immortality exclaim against this as a ridiculous paradox. Once in a while there is grown a heart so spacious that Nature finds in it room to chant aloud the word God, and set its echoes rolling billowy through one man's being; and he, lifting up his voice to repeat it among men from that inward hearing, invariably astounds, and it may be infuriates his contemporaries. The simple proposition, GOD IS, could it once be wholly received, would shake our sphere as no earthquake ever did, and would leave not one stone upon another, I say not merely of some city of Lisbon, but of entire kingdoms and systems of civilization. The faintest inference from this cannot be vigorously announced in modern senates without sending throbs of terror over half a continent, and eliciting shrieks of remonstrance from the very shrines of worship.
The ancient perpetual truths prove, at each fresh enunciation, not only surprising, but incredible. The reason is, that they overfill the vessels of men's credence. If you pour the Atlantic Ocean into a pint basin, what can the basin do but refuse to contain it, and so spill it over? Universal truths are as spacious and profound as the universe itself; and for the cerebral capacity of most of us the universe is really somewhat large!
But as the major numbers of mankind are too little self-reverent to dispense with the services of self-conceit, they like to think themselves equal, and very easily equal, to any truth, and habitually assume their extempore, off-hand notion of its significance as a perfect measure of the fact. As if a man hollowed his hand, and, dipping it full out of Lake Superior, said, "Lake Superior just fills my hand!" To how many are the words God, Love, Immortality just such complacent handfuls! And when some mariner of God seizes them with loving mighty arms, and bears them in his bark beyond sight of their wonted shores, what wonder that they perceive not the identity of this sky-circled sea with their accustomed handful? Yet, despite egotism and narrowness of brain and every other limitation, the spirit of man will claim its privilege and assert its affinity with all truth; and in such measure as one utters the pure heart of mankind, and states the real relationships of human nature, is he sure of ultimate audience and sufficing love.
ERICSSON AND HIS INVENTIONS.
No events of the present war will be longer remembered, or will hold a more prominent place in History, than those which took place on the eighth and ninth of March in Hampton Roads, when the Rebel steamer Merrimack attacked the Federal fleet. We all know what havoc she made in her first day's work. When the story of her triumphs flashed over the wires, it fell like a thunderbolt upon all loyal hearts.
The Cumberland, manned by as gallant a crew as ever fought under the Stars and Stripes, had gone down helplessly before her. The Congress, half-manned, but bravely defended, had been captured and burnt. Sailing frigates, such as were deemed formidable in the days of Hull and Decatur, and which some of our old sea-dogs still believed to be the main stay of the navy, were found to be worse than useless against this strange antagonist. Our finest steam-frigates, though accidentally prevented from getting fairly into action, seemed likely, however skilfully handled, to have proved almost as inefficient; for all our batteries and broadsides had produced no effect on this iron-clad monster. She had gone back to her lair uninjured. What was to prevent her from coming out again to break the blockade, bombard our seaports, sink and destroy everything that came in her way?
But we had only seen the first act of the drama. The curtain was to rise again, and a new character was to appear on the stage. The champion of the Union, in complete armor, was about to enter the lists. When the Merrimack steamed out defiantly on Sunday morning, the Monitor was there to meet her. Then, for the first time in naval warfare, two iron-clad vessels were pitted against each other. The Merrimack was driven back disabled. We breathed freely again at this dnouement, and congratulated ourselves that the nation had been saved from enormous damage and disgrace. We did not foresee that the great Rebel monster, despairing of a successful encounter with her antagonist, was to end her career by suicide. We thought only of the vast injury which she might have done, and might yet be capable of doing, to the Union cause, but from which we had so providentially escaped. It was indeed a narrow escape. Nothing but the opportune arrival of the Monitor saved us; and for this impregnable vessel we are indebted to the genius of Ericsson.
This distinguished engineer and inventor, although a foreigner by birth, has long been a citizen of the United States. His first work in this country—by which, as in the present instance, he added honor and efficiency to the American navy—was the steam-frigate Princeton, a vessel which in her day was almost as great a novelty as the Monitor is now. The improvements in steam machinery and propulsion and in the arts of naval warfare, which he introduced in her, formed the subject of a lecture delivered before the Boston Lyceum by John O. Sargent, in 1844, from which source we derive some interesting particulars concerning Ericsson's early history.
John Ericsson was born in 1803, in the Province of Vermeland, among the iron mountains of Sweden. His father was a mining proprietor, so that the youth had ample opportunities to watch the operation of the various engines and machinery connected with the mines. These had been erected by mechanicians of the highest scientific attainments, and presented a fine study to a mind of mechanical tendencies. Under such influences, his innate mechanical talent was early developed. At the age of ten years, he had constructed with his own hands, and after his own plans, a miniature sawmill, and had made numerous drawings of complicated mechanical contrivances, with instruments of his own invention and manufacture.
In 1814 he attracted the attention of the celebrated Count Platen, who had heard of his boyish efforts, and desired an interview with him. After carefully examining various plans and drawings which the youth exhibited, the Count handed them back to him, simply observing, in an impressive manner, "Continue as you have commenced, and you will one day produce something extraordinary."
Count Platen was the intimate personal friend of Bernadotte, the King of Sweden, and was regarded by him with a feeling little short of veneration. It was Count Platen who undertook and carried through, in opposition to the views of the Swedish nobility, and of nearly the whole nation, that gigantic work, the Grand Ship Canal of Sweden, which connects the North Sea with the Baltic. He died Viceroy of Norway, and left behind him the reputation of one of the greatest men of the century. The few words of kind encouragement which he spoke, on the occasion to which we have referred, sank deeply into the mind of the young mechanician, and confirmed him in the career on which he had entered.
Immediately after this interview young Ericsson was made a cadet in the corps of engineers, and, after six months' tuition, at the age of twelve years, was appointed niveleur on the Grand Ship Canal under Count Platen. In this capacity, in the year 1816, he was required to set out the work for more than six hundred men. The canal was constructed by soldiers. He was at that time not tall enough to look through the levelling-instrument; and in using it, he was obliged to mount upon a stool, carried by his attendants for that purpose. As the discipline in the Swedish army required that the soldier should always uncover the head in speaking to his superior, gray-headed men came, cap in hand, to receive their instructions from this mere child.
While thus employed in the summer months, he was constantly occupied during the winter with his pencil and pen; and there are many important works on the canal constructed after drawings made by Ericsson at this early age. During his leisure hours, he measured up and made working-drawings of every implement and piece of machinery connected with this great enterprise; so that at the age of fifteen he was in possession of accurate plans of the whole work, drawn by his own hand.
His associations with military men on the canal had given him an inclination for military life; and at the age of seventeen he entered the Swedish army as an ensign, without the knowledge of his friend and patron, Count Platen. This step excited the indignation of the Count, who tried to prevail upon him to change his resolution; but finding all his arguments useless, he terminated an angry interview by bidding the young ensign "go to the Devil." The affectionate regard which he entertained for the Count, and gratitude for the interest taken by him in his education, caused the circumstances of this interview to make a deep impression upon Ericsson, but were not sufficient to shake his determination.
Soon after the young ensign had entered upon his regimental duties, an affair occurred which threatened to obscure his hitherto bright prospects. His Colonel, Baron Koskull, had been disgraced by the King, about the time that he had recommended Ericsson for promotion. This circumstance induced the King to reject the recommendation. The Colonel was exceedingly annoyed by this rejection; and having in his possession a military map made by the expectant ensign, he took it to his Royal Highness the Crown Prince Oscar, and besought him to intercede for the young man with the King. The Prince received the map very kindly, expressing great admiration of its beautiful finish and execution, and presented himself in person with it to the King, who yielded to the joint persuasion of the Prince and the map, and promoted the young ensign to the lieutenancy for which he had been recommended.
About the time of this promotion, the Government had ordered the northern part of Sweden to be accurately surveyed. It being the desire of the King that officers of the army should be employed in this service, Ericsson, whose regiment was stationed in the northern highlands, proceeded to Stockholm, for the purpose of submitting himself to the severe examination then a prerequisite to the appointment of Government surveyor.
The mathematical education which he had received under Count Platen now proved very serviceable. He passed the examination with great distinction, and in the course of it, to the surprise of the examiners, showed that he could repeat Euclid verbatim,—not by the exercise of the memory, which in Ericsson is not remarkably retentive, but from his perfect mastery of geometrical science. There is no doubt that it is this thorough knowledge of geometry to which he is indebted for his clear conceptions on all mechanical subjects.
Having returned to the highlands, he entered on his new vocation with great assiduity; and, supported by an unusually strong constitution, he mapped a larger extent of territory than any other of the numerous surveyors employed on the work. There are yet in the archives of Sweden detailed maps of upwards of fifty square miles made by his hand.
Neither the great labors attending these surveys, nor his military duties, could give sufficient employment to the energies of the young officer. In connection with a German engineer, Major Pentz, he now began the arduous task of compiling a work on Canals, to be illustrated by sixty-four large plates, representing the various buildings, machines, and instruments connected with the construction of such works. The part assigned to him in this enterprise was nothing less than that of making all the drawings, as well as of engraving the numerous plates; and as all the plates were to be executed in the style of what is called machine-engraving, he undertook to construct a machine for the purpose, which he successfully accomplished. This work he prosecuted with so much industry, in the midst of his other various labors, that, within the first year of its commencement, he had executed eighteen large plates, which were pronounced by judges of machine-engraving to be of superior merit.
While thus variously occupied, being on a visit to the house of his Colonel, Ericsson on one occasion showed his host, by a very simple experiment, how readily mechanical power may be produced, independently of steam, by condensing flame. His friend was much struck by the beauty and simplicity of the experiment, and prevailed upon Ericsson to give more attention to a principle which he considered highly important. The young officer accordingly made sonic experiments on an enlarged scale, and succeeded in the production of a motive power equal to that of a steam-engine of ten-horse power. So satisfactory was the result, from the compact form of the machine employed, as well as the comparatively small consumption of fuel, that he conceived the idea of at once bringing it out in England, the great field for all mechanical inventions.
Ericsson accordingly obtained, leave from the King to visit England, where he arrived on the eighteenth of May, 1826. He there proceeded to construct a working engine on the principle above mentioned, but soon discovered that his flame-engine, when worked by the combustion of mineral coals, was a different thing from the experimental model he had tried in the highlands of Sweden, with fuel composed of the splinters of fine pine wood. Not only did he fail to produce an extended and vivid flame, but the intense heat so seriously affected all the working parts of the machine as soon to cause its destruction.
These experiments, it may well be supposed, were attended with no trifling expenditure; and, to meet these demands upon him, our young adventurer was compelled to draw on his mechanical resources.
Invention now followed invention in rapid succession, until the records of the Patent-Office in London were enriched with the drawings of the remarkable steam-boiler on the principle of artificial draught; to which principle we are mainly indebted for the benefits conferred on civilization by the present rapid communication by railways. In bringing this important invention before the public, Ericsson thought it advisable to join some old and established mechanical house in London; and accordingly he associated himself with John Braithwaite, a name favorably known in the mechanical annals of England. This invention was hardly developed, when an opportunity was presented for testing it in practice.
The directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, before erecting the stationary engines by which they had intended to draw their passenger and freight carriages, determined to appeal to the mechanical talent of the country, in the hope of securing some preferable form of motor. A prize was accordingly offered, in the autumn of 1829, for the best locomotive engine, to be tested on the portion of the railway then completed. Ericsson was not aware that any such prize had been offered, until within seven weeks of the day fixed for the trial. He was not deterred by the shortness of the time, but, applying all his energies to the task, planned an engine, executed the working-drawings, and had the whole machine constructed within the seven weeks.
The day of trial arrived. Three engines entered the lists for the prize,—namely, the Rocket, by George Stephenson; the Sanspareil, by Timothy Hackworth; and the Novelty, by Ericsson. Both sides of the railway, for more than a mile in length, were lined with thousands of spectators. There was no room for jockeying in such a race, for inanimate matter was to be put in motion, and that moves only in accordance with immutable laws. The signal was given for the start. Instead of the application of whip and spur, the gentle touch of the steam-valve gave life and motion to the novel machine.
Up to that period, the greatest speed at which man had been carried along the ground was that of the race-horse; and no one of the multitude present on this occasion expected to see that speed surpassed. It was the general belief that the maximum attainable by the locomotive engine would not much exceed ten miles. To the surprise and admiration of the crowd, however, the Novelty steam-carriage, the fastest engine started, guided by its inventor Ericsson, assisted by John Braithwaite, darted along the track at the rate of upwards of fifty miles an hour!
The breathless silence of the multitude was now broken by thunders of hurras, that drowned the hiss of the escaping steam and the rolling of the engine-wheels. To reduce the surprise and delight excited on this occasion to the universal standard, and as an illustration of the extent to which the value of property is sometimes enhanced by the success of a mechanical invention, it may be stated, that, when the Novelty had run her two miles and returned, the shares of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had risen ten per cent.