COME here, my wife Bertha, and sit down beside me on our quiet veranda for a little while, before the summer evening grows too chill. I was not reading just now when you bade me put down my book and look at the new moon over my right shoulder. I was not reading, but dreaming. Dreaming of a long time ago, before I knew you, — of that pleasant summer when you were fishing for trout, among the mountains of Pennsylvania, and I was wandering along the Bergstrasse northward from Heidelberg. It was the Frohnleichnams-Fest, or Corpus-Christi day, and the villages were alive with processions. The streets were strewn with flowers; there were banners, music, glittering ecclesiastical dresses in the front, sadly solemn holiday-makers in the rear. Following these, but not going with them to the churches, was another little procession of pilgrims to the shrine of an older religion, in the forest of Odin. Four were Burschen and two Philistines. The four were Teutons, and had a right to seek the home of their great ancestor ; the two were of a race which has also a right to go anywhere and seek anything. It is a people to which I am partial, since it is in direct violation of Mr. D’Israeli’s theory of “ pure races” that it is working out the problem, " How to make the best spoon or spoil the biggest horn yet known.” Of course the two were Americans, — representatives of North and South, according to the two capital M’s of each, Maryland or Massachusetts. If any one wishes to know further whether we could also boast the two capital B’s, Boston and Baltimore, they may inquire at the publishers’.
Ours was a pleasant company. Youth, the Rhine, June, foot-travel, and never a care to weight the knapsacks, ought to make it pleasant for any reasonable soul. It is a dim dream to me now, my dear, as I sit under our green leaves in this quiet village street, with its closeshut prospect, but it was a glorious reality then as we toiled up the Melibocus, and saw the great Rhine valley broaden beneath. We looked across to the blue, cloudy ranges of the Vosges, and afar to Strasburg, and down on Mannheim and Worms and Speyer, on the river twining like a thread of silver embroidery on green velvet, on the railways running like straight seams across the level plain.
That last is tailor-like, but your present occupation, my wife, put it into my head. I will try to give you a better notion of what we saw.
Do you know Po’keepsie ? And College Hill ? Stand upon it, then ; multiply it by three, put it into the centre of Dutchess County. Then take our heavy garden-roller multiplied into itself till you are tired, and with that smooth away all between you and the base of the Catskills. Push the Shawangunk Chain and the Fishkill Highlands back from the river a dozen miles, and then arrange in a huge triangle the same,— Hudson in the centre, very much twisted, and a good deal thinner and shallower by being so much drawn out. That is what we saw with the outward eye. But there ran a river of life through that valley, such as our great-great-grandchildren will hardly see in any American water - course’s bed, — the great ebbing and flowing tide-stream of Europe’s life. Siegfried and Chriemhild and Günther (not he according to whom all things are to be done, but the wild hero-king of the Nibelungenlied); Cæsar the bridge-builder, Varus and Herrmann, Charles the Fifth and Luther, Tallard and Marlborough, Napoleon and Bliicher ; wave on wave, down to the Prussian corps d'armée which came pouring through the defiles of the Rheinpfalz to put down the insurrections of Forty-Eight; — all this we might have beheld, and a deal more, but we had business farther on. We were going into the forest, to see that monstrous block of hewn stone, the “ Giant’s Column,” which centuries ago Roman tools, it is said, cut laborious out in memory of a victory, but had not engineering skill enough to set upright. A patriotic Fatherland proposed to set it up on the field of Leipsic, but the money or the pulleys of the Fatherland proved inadequate. It would be a handsome freight for the Great Eastern. And we scrambled down the Felsenmeer, an emancipated stone-quarry, looking like a little patch of the debris of the Great Deluge, which Dame Nature, in tidying up our world, had somehow overlooked.
It was dark that night when we got to Lindenfels. And into such a Gast haus went we ! I arose in the morning, and, for my bath, — behold, a small piedish, over which presided a superanuated beer-bottle holding brevet rank as a water-pitcher ! But all was forgotten as we stepped into the open air beneath the frowning ruins of the Castle of Lindenfels. Such June days visit us now and then, as distinguished foreigners with a conventional incognito glorify our shores, but they are to the manor born in the Odenwald. I remember one such in this country, — that day in June which Professor Lowell set to the exquisite music of the prelude to the first part of Sir Launfal; but, — as he very properly observed, — “ What is so rare as a day in June ? ” I remember only that one. We had them by the week-full in the Odenwald. There was a breezy stir in the air, an elastic lift and quickening of the frame which came with each breath; the sun clapped you on the back with a “ Good day, comrade,” instead of hitting you from the shoulder with fist doubled ; and your first step on the greensward promised thirty miles ere bedtime.
And then the scenery. Midway between the tameness of a public highway and the awful monotony of an American forest, it was all that is pleasant and nought that is tiresome in either. It was the heart of the forest, and upon the way to the Wild-Huntsman’s Castle of Roderstein. We followed the foot-path and bridle-road through grain-fields all unfenced, so that between the tall green stems thick set we could see the scarlet poppies and blue corn-flowers interwoven, as the wind brushed gently over the surface, like the colors which come and go in a shot silk, — a warp and woof of Nature’s weaving with the shuttle of the ploughshare. You do not see the flowers themselves, — save one or two close at hand, — but the colors of the flowers ; and my comparison, if not poetical, is true.
Along those pleasant paths we tramped, across brooks with worn stepping-stones, and so into the cool woodsides, not, like ours, all a-tangle with cat-briers and underbrush, but clean and trim, the forest children having gleaned up the fallen twigs till it was like a park, and left none of that sad, oppressive sense of decay and waste which our woods have. From my childhood, I have had a vague terror in the woods because of their closeness. It always seems as if their thick green coverts harbored something which might spring upon me, or hide some one who could see me and laugh at me if I grew enthusiastic. Or else I felt shut in and could see nothing, any more than a man in a prairie with the grass higher than his head. But these clear, breezy shades were charming and gladsome as the forests of fairy-land.
When did I ever see fairy-land ? Often, my child, in days when I was young enough to visit it, after half past eight at night, per special train of Queen Mab’s conducting. I found my childhood’s dream here. for on one hand were the feathery larch plantations ; on the other, dark fir groves, weeping-birches in the valleys, oaks in the open glades ; and out of the summer noontide stillness, as we rested under the Wild Jager’s tree, broke the sweet, startling coo of the wood-pigeon. Here, in our land, man seems to have his grasp upon the soil as it were upon the mane of an untamed colt, but there he sits firmly in his saddle upon the well-broken steed. Solitude in the Old World is not necessarily loneliness; but, get lost on a prairie or in John Brown’s Tract, and you are alone. I have crossed a Tyrolese pass without meeting a single human being from morning till night; but, though the footpath vanished in open heath, the map in my pocket and the lines of the bare hill-tops were perfect guides, and I had quite as much conversation as in a whole day’s railroad-travel has sometimes happened to me.
And so no sense of loneliness haunts the solitudes of the heart of the Odenwald. I do not think we, as a people, love the woods much, except we go there to shoot. We do not often ramble in them, or make picnic parties there; we think of them as places where we wet our feet, tear our clothes, and scratch our faces. But the European has a passion for the woods, and you can make the hearts of the London and Paris cockneys rejoice and be glad in no surer way than by inviting them into the forests of Epping or Fontainebleau. In fact, one cannot feel Shakespeare’s songs, or the English ballads of Robin Hood, without having for scenery a European and not an American greenwood. There must be open glades for the deer to graze in, and plenty of bridle-paths along which the fat monks and proud shire-reeves may travel. Fancy yourself, dear, as Maid Marian practising archery in the cedar swamps, where there is scarce room for robin-redbreast to fly.
By why, you ask me, does this little book remind me of those dear old days, when forty miles of foot-travel was no impossibility between dawn and dreaming again? (Romancing? No, my love, I assure you I once did it, through the mistake of a guide who made a short cut and took us ten miles out of our road ; and the next day I was awfully knocked up by it, but that we need n’t tell the public, you know.) I will tell you why. It is a book of German songs, and here and there in it are familiar words which then beguiled our way and measured our tramp by music. Of course our company sang. Did I not tell you they were German students on their vacation, and so sang as naturally as the bee sings in a clover-lot ? One of the student - songs expressly has it: —
Him scorneth the Bursch for a pitiful thing.”
I did not say I sang. Perhaps it was of me that the Herr Professor ——, when the Gottingen students asked him if any one in America sang worse than he did, was thinking when he answered, " One man.” It was not; but you know there is no antecedent probability against it. But they sang, — Max sang, Otto sang, the Herr Baron sang. And such songs ! I thought of the party with whom in the golden days of youth I went sailing on the seas to explore remotest Provincetown and see the Fourth of July kept, and what we Americans of the sangre azul, with college diplomas in our pockets (figuratively speaking),sang, — negro melodies all, — “the irrepressible Ethiop,” the sad and silly slip-slop of Christy’s, mere burnt-cork and lamp-black. One dismal fag-end of chorus we were specially prone to ; we repeated it at evening anchor when drifting amid the fogs off Chatham, upon the sands of the Shovelful Shoal, by the cliff of Gayhead, and in the Bay of Buzzards. Even for this we were indebted to the captain who piloted us from where, in shame and confusion of face, we picked it up. But out of the German heart there flows a river of perennial song, as in that Odenwald flows the fountain at which Siegfried drank his last draught, and which is bubbling there to-day as fresh as ever.
And this book which I hold dear, and the others which stand beside on the third lower shelf in my study there, are full of German songs such as I heard them sing that June day. They are songs. Poor Poe once said of a poem he was reviewing : “ This queer composition is entitled a song, and we should like very much to hear Mr. Channing (the author) sing it.” He might have said this in good sooth and not in irony of any of the nine hundred and ninety-nine German songs. They are all to be sung, and it is a pleasant process to hear their authors sing them. They are written, like Moore’s melodies, to the music, and not set to it like our American lyrics, which means stuck to it by a sort of harmonic Spalding’s glue. We have read of airs married to immortal verse, but the “immortal verses ” of our composers seem all to have contracted mariages de convenance. These of Germany have come out of the heart of a people whose speech, like that of the Witch in Thalaba, is song. You think, don’t you, that the German is harsh ? and you have an idea that the Italian is musical ; which faith is grounded principally upon our friend Miss Manikin’s “rendering” of operatic morceaux, and the accents of the beggar who flattered your dog, not to say yourself, and cost me an eleemosynary dime which loads my conscience to this day. But did you ever hear German gentlemen and ladies conversing, or Neapolitan fishwomen squabbling ? There is another side of the case to be heard, may it please your Honor.
The German language flows into rhythmic and rhyming order without effort. Our English is stiff and rigid, with its inevitable couplets, in comparison.
I have translated Wordsworth’s “We are Seven ” into very tolerable German, but I should like to see Brooks or Longfellow get it back again without the help of the original. Shakespeare is capitally rendered in German, but how spiritless are our best versions of Schiller ! excepting Coleridge’s, which are paraphrases rather than translations. In fact the German can translate us, while we are obliged to paraphrase him, save now and then where the kindred Saxon lineage shows itself in identical words and phrases, and a line translates itself. But German verse twists its rhymes easily this way and that, as a child bends its pliant little body and limbs. There is many and many a song I know of which has a musical subtlety of composition perfectly inimitable, and no more to be translated than a pun out of English into French.
You thought German poetry was mystical and in the clouds ? No, my Bertha, no more than French cookery is all pepper and mustard. Those are Yankee errors borrowed from that big blunderer, Bull, who growls at everybody from his own immaculate island. German prose is mystical when it treats of mystical things, but the German language has a greater power of precise statement than our own. The very obscurity of German thought arises out of the fine capacity of German words for hair-splitting definitions. German poetry in general is straightforward enough. Even the second part of Faust is lucid, provided the same principle of exegesis be applied as that by which we interpret hot coals in the fire, — every man to see what he pleases therein ; and Faust is a very stream of crystal compared to Browning’s Sordello.
But my little book opens of itself to one song my friend sang, — that charming one of Uhland’s, “The Landlady’s Little Daughter.” Translate it for you? No, it has been better done than I can do it, and you shall hear outfriend Max Helfenstein sing it some day. But I will tell you its story. “ Three students were travelling over the Rhine.” Handsome young fellows, I know they were, with little caps of three colors set on their long curls, with amber mustaches soft as the silk of Indian corn, and with great blue Teutonic eyes, and fresh, fair cheeks, with a bit of a scar, perhaps, on one. “ They stopped,” it says, “ when they came to the landlady’s sign.” Of course their first question — for Rhineland roads are dusty — was for beer and wine, and next for the landlady’s little daughter. And Frau Wirthin answers that her beer and wine are as good as ever, but her little daughter lies ready for the grave. And they come quietly and sadly enough into the death-chamber, where she lies in the black coffin ; and the first student, who has never seen her, turns back the shroud and looks long and earnestly upon the sweet, pale face, and says : “ Wert thou but living now, I would love thee from this time henceforth.” And the second covers again the well - remembered features, and turns weeping away, saying : “ I have loved thee long.” But the third once more lifts up the veil, and kisses brow and mouth, and, with a sorrow passing tears, says ; —
And thee will I love through eternity.”
There was another pretty song in the dialect spoken in the Bavarian Highlands, of which the refrain ran : —
I return, my love, to thee.”
It is a little Volkslied, but full of the simple, direct affection of humble life, which does not trouble itself about fine phrases any more than he who sings it about fine clothes. It is true to the sentiment of the wandering trade’s-apprentice and the faithful plain-faced maiden who waits for him at home. But it is a capital marching-song, such a one as you can step out to with a jolly, swinging stride.
It is a strange but profitable life, that roving one of the Handwerksbursch, for he sees all that Ulysses saw, “ men and cities,” and he learns the best ways of doing his appointed work which anywhere are practised. Even the German waiters travel, to study the hotel-keeping fashions of all Europe. I have met them in London coffeehouses painfully acquiring the “ yessir,” “arf an’ arf, sir,” “rosemutton ’nd ’tatoes, sir,” of the London Ganymedes, and exchanging their “gleich ! gleich ! ” for the “ d’reckly, sir,” with which the modern Francis of Eastcheap has replaced the “anon, anon,” of Falstaff’s and Bardolph’s time. For, my dear, in the season all nations meet at the German table d'hôte, and every civilized people has its little peculiarities. And, therefore, as home-keeping waiters, like other youth, will have but homely wits, the German Kellner is found far and wide learning English in the intervals of duty out of a greasy copy of the Vicar of Wakefield, — I suppose because the good Dr. Goldsmith was also a freeman of the guild of foot-travellers ; and Italian out of “ I Promessi Sposi ” ; and French — no, my dear, though you often remind me that “ Calypso, not being able to console herself after the departure of,” etc., the German does not need to drink at that fountain in his maturer years ; he knew all about French, except its accent, before he got out of his school-boy jacket.
But you have led me into a digression, and so lost all that I had to tell you about the great tree-trunk in the heart of Vienna, which is set with nails until it is mail-clad, and into which every blacksmith’s-apprentice coming to Vienna must hammer a new one ; and you have also lost the story one of the craft told me as we walked from NeckarSteinach to Heidelberg. I must get back to my song-birds again. This little book, Bertha, is a collection of German songs. You see, to save room, they are printed like prose ; whereas our bards always make obvious to the eye that metrical quality which the ear might perhaps fail to find out. Economy of space versus economy of time. I have my finger on one of them, and if you will take it in a rough version, I will read it to you, it is so full of the spirit of vagabond life in the German summer time : —
Were in this purse of mine ;
The farthing went for brown-bread,
The penny went for wine.
They cry, ' Alack and woe,’
The landlords when I linger,
The maidens when I go.
My stockings they are strings,
Yet out upon the meadows
The small bird blithely sings.
(“ Morial,” as the minstrel of Villikins and his Dinah says)
And had the cask no spigot
I could not drink therefrom.”
This same gentleman, one would think, must have been the hero of Von Muller’s capital song, of which the naiveté hardly transferable into English. (I observe all great poets say this when they have fears that their translations will not produce the required sensation.) But such as I can do you shall receive : —
One eye he opens and one keeps he shut;
Clearly I see it, moon, thou must be mellow :
Shame on thee, shame on thee, jolly old fellow.
Spinning around like the wheel of a mill,
Dancing and prancing to left and to right;
Seems to me everything’s tipsy to-night.
Shall I go on and endanger my pate ?
That were presuming. No, no, it is plain,
Better go back in the tavern again.”
There are plenty more convivial songs, of all degrees of merit, from Schiller’s transcendental “ Punschlied ” to one which I heard roared out in a Tyrolese Wirthshaus to a tune very like the infant-school song of
In a merry, pretty row ”;
of which chorus and song were principally repetitions of the words “ Bairisch Bier.” But there are other things to sing of besides drink. I wish some-
body would take up Uhland, and, picking out a half dozen poems I could select, give them in first-rate versions. I cannot do it, my love ; I can sit down with my dictionary and render word for word into passable doggerel imitations ; but to get the soul, “to catch the aroma of a pound of tea,” so to speak, as Vivian Grey proposed to the Marquis of Carabas in making punch, is another matter. They say Capri wine loses its flavor if you take it even to Rome, and that the fragrant Steinberger should never be uncorked save upon the banks of the Rhine. So it is with these delicious little German songs: they cannot stand a seavoyage.
There is a river-song of Uhland’s. A boat gliding down a river, its passengers all strangers, and sitting silent. By and by the old forester draws from under his blouse his hunting-horn, and tries a familiar air ; the wandering apprentice is moved to unscrew the head and ferrule of his staff, and takes out of that his flute ; and the pretty girl, with her brown hair neatly braided, — and no ugly bonnet, we may be sure, — finds courage, after a glance or two at her blushing face in the water, to add her voice. The oarsmen catch up the chorus, and the echoes join and repeat, and we may be sure the sun seems to shine out more brightly and the smooth water to break into more sparkling ripples, — though the song does not say so, — and that every one is kind and friendly. Then the keel slips gently on to the smooth sandy shore, and the little company breaks up quite saddened at parting.
In one bark together be? ”
There is a rippling motion of the lines, which is very suggestive, and which the double rhymes, so abundant in German, help to cause.
There is a very wild gypsy song of Goethe’s, which I often croon over, because of its chorus. I will try to remember it for you : —
In the wild wood, in the winter night,
I heard the boding cry of the owl.
Wille, wau, wau, wau,
Wille, wo, wo, wo,
Wito, hu !
Annie, the witch’s old black cat.
Seven wehr-wolves came in the night to me,
Each an old wife of the village was she.
Wille, wau, wau, wau, etc.
The Annie, the Ursel, the Bess,
The Lisa, the Barb’ra, the Eva, the Kate ;
They howled in a ring around my gate.
Wille, wau, wau, wau, etc.
What wilt thou Annie, what wilt thou Bess?
Themselves they wriggled, themselves they shook,
And howling homeward their way they took.
Wille, wau, wau, wau,
Wille, wo, wo, wo,
Wito, hu ! ”
I wish I could hit as literally Goethe’s serenade. But there is an untranslatable felicity which some German poems have, of repeating, as in this one, the third line of the preceding stanza as the first of the next, and keeping the same ending for each stanza. It is like a braid of gold and silver cord, where the same thread appears again under each entwining. Ruckert and Heine both do the same. And, as I mention Heine, what a vision of Germany comes to me ! His two volumes which I have here on my table are a series of pictures. He seems to have set life to music ; and his life opera begins with a dark tragic overture, to end in the most comic and yet the saddest of finales. Love and despair, or love and satiety ; and then the mocking chorus of the “ Germania" at the close. His songs are little sketches, — a lonely street, and a figure pacing before an empty house ; a watcher at the streetcorner looking up at lighted windows ; a voyager gazing at the stormy North Sea waves ; the sea-beach with the mists rolling in from beyond the light-house ; — a passionate investiture of all natural objects with the burning Nessus-shirt of the wearer. The water-lily pining for the moon (who is masculine in German, as the sun is the triumphant representative of the woman’s-rights question), the moon looking up from the lake to meet the water-lily’s gaze ; —all nature is the victim, according to Heine, of an “unrequited,”or “prior, attachment.” Then comes the time when nothing is too sacred for the daring muse, and then there are poems which no one of English blood ever would or could translate, being worse than atheistic.
But interminged with these are the tenderest and loveliest of little poems, and, as I said, the most comic. When I firstread his “Deutschland,”I laughed till I cried over his description of his breaking down in his post-chaise in the forest, and the wolves assembling around, and the speech he makes to persuade them that he was a fellow-sympathizer with them, and had advocated the cause of the sheep only to save appearances.
I can turn, I find, to a little poem of his, — to one of his many lady-loves, —which I like very much for its simplicity, and which blends his two moods very prettily: —
Two children blithe and gay,
When we used to creep in the hen-house,
And hide ourselves in the hay.
To puzzle the pasers-by ;
Kikerikee ! they thought it
The genuine cockerel cry.
Old shawls and carpets we laid ;
We lived in them together,
And a famous house we made.
Came often on us to call ;
We met her bows and ceurtesies
With complimentings and all.
Carefully naming each one,
As with many an ancient tabby
We have often since then done.
In a solemn head-shaking way ;
Complaining that all things were better,
Far better, than now, in our day ;
Out of the world were fled ;
And coffee was so much dearer,
And money so scarce, we said.
And flying like dreams of youth Are the World and the Times and the Money,
Believing, and Love, and Truth.”
If you like that, —and, having been a child, I think you must, — here is one more of Heine’s, upon a different key,— one of his melancholy love-songs, which young gentlemen, between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two, should such read the Atlantic, are requested not to omit: —
And thence there comes my pain ;
And one by one each blossom cup I gaze in,
And seek a heart again.
The nightingale is heard ;
I seek a heart as fair and fond as mine is,
A heart as deeply stirred.
The mystery of her moan ;
To both of us it is so lone and dreary
So drear and lone.”
Sentimental enough, I dare say ; but as we grow older, my dear wife, we love sentiment. It is a harmless beverage,— the eau sucree which, when one is hot and dusty with the hard work of life, is very cooling and refreshing. Do you say I am getting prosy ? For that I shall inflict another stanza on you, — “The Origin of the Watch.” Says Heine : —
Parcelling hours and minutes out?
It was a shivering, sorrowful one,
Who sat and thought in the midnight lone,
And counted the steps of the knowing mouse,
And the death-watch’s click in the weary house.”
The antithesis to this,—he who invented kisses, — is not so good, so I will not translate it; but instead the little song which Heine calls “ Doctrin,” merely premising, my child, that the principle of Hegel’s philosophy has been thus summed up, “ Nothing is, but everything is going to be.”
And merrily kiss the vivandière ;
That is the whole of learning’s sphere,
That is the big book’s chiefest care.
Beat the reveille with youthful arm,
Drumming and marching ever ahead ;
That is the sum of learning’s charm.
The pith of the books both great and small ;
I found it out because I am wise,
And because I ’m a skilful drummer withal.”
The charm of most of his little poems, however, lies partly in the deep passion poured out in them, and their exquisite little pictures of German out-door life. They are like vignettes or marginal etchings, such as, if I were rich enough, I would have to a unique copy of “Hyperion” that I have devised. I don’t know of anybody save Tennyson who has written such in English. For a true song is just a single thought in a rich setting. There are love-poems which may be sung, and also many other poems which suffer the same change in the sea of music ; but songs they can hardly be called. Men sometimes, — not often, — express themselves, in moments of great feeling, lyrically; but when they simply sing, it is not because they are thinking much, but just want to let out a pleasant or tender emotion in a simple way through music. Negro melodies, real ones, are a fair example of the singing impulse. The idea is subordinated to the air. Negro melodies manufactured are utterly opposed to every true principle of song-making ; are such as, except for sale, no mortal ever would dream of making. So are all Scotch songs not written by Scotchmen, and sea-songs not written by sailors, convivial ditties written by young gentlemen in the Sophomore year of college, and the miscellaneous “poems ” so entitled in most volumes of verse. A true song is one that will come into one’s head as he walks in the woods of a pleasant day, and that runs over the lips unconsciously. He who writes one good song in his life may rest, like single-speech Hamilton, on his laurels. I think I should like to write a lecture, my dear, on songs and songwriting, and illustrate it out of Burns, Mother Goose, Shakespeare, and Mrs. Hemans.
But my books have taken me away from where I began, —my Wanderjahre in Germany and Switzerland. For then I too was apprentice, to learn this craft I am now so painfully practising, — the art or mystery of living my life, —and so went to see other men’s lives. They are before me now in my mind’s eye, the companions of those pleasant times. Grave professor of chemistry, do you remember them, and how we were often irreverent at your fondness for the clear fragrant honey of the Alps, and over your Alpenstock, which we likened to the spear of Goliath of Gath ? And you, mighty Orientalist ! Du, mein braver Camerad, who could never away with my fancy of feeding the stray dogs that sniffed wistfully at our suppertables in the little Gasthaus or trattoria; and thou too, O most dauntless of pedestrians, with whom I made that mad night-scramble down the side of the Faulhorn, — shall we ever meet again ?
Do you remember, boys, how we rode triumphantly into Milan with one quarter-franc, the sole pecuniary relic of our Swiss tour ? Have you forgotten the ex-contractor of the Erie Railroad, whom we met upon the Simplon, and who stood in pleased wonder at that mighty work, exclaiming, “ Why, they must have engineers in Europe, and have had them some time too ?”
Have you forgotten our glorious march from Chamouni to Osieres, and our night at the Hospice of St. Bernard ? Whatever else we learnt in those brave days, we certainly did discover the use of our legs, and that brandy is the pedestrian’s vade-mecum; not internally, O Neal Dow! but poured into one’s shoes, against which use the law of Maine hath no provision. These German Wanderlieder bring you all before me, — countrymen of whom I am proud and who since have proved well the value of your foreign apprenticeship.
And now, my dear wife, I am going to turn from you to the public ear, and say a word for pedestrianism. I suppose these lines of mine, if they are, by favor of the indulgent editors of Maga, read at all, save by the committee of publication, will be perused in railway cars where the peripatetic boy who offers you “ m’xd caandies ” and Stuart’s fresh gumm-drops,” is followed by another with a heap of miscellaneous literature. And I beg the reader to put gravely before himself this proposition : Are you, my dear fellow, knowing anything about the country through which you are driving at the rate of three quarters of a mile a minute ? And then I beg you to ask yourself, is this country worth seeing ?
There are in this State in which I now am writing, — my State, by adoption and grace, — Connecticut, at least four beautiful rivers, — the Housatonic, the Naugatuck, the Thames, and the Connecticut, whose valleys are full of as lovely scenery as can well be found in the most celebrated of European lands. There are no grand associations, that is true ; but if you have ever travelled, you know better than I can tell you that association is a matter which depends very much upon previous culture and immediate mood. I remember being immoderately merry at Chillon ; and to have sat down on one of the stone seats of the Coliseum to read letters from home, full of little Emma’s and wee Maggie’s sayings and doings, and to have given them the precedence even over the Emperor Commodus and the early Christian martyrs. But lovely scenery one can almost always feel and enjoy. And if you are, as I trust, a politically inclined citizen, a knowledge of what THE PEOPLE are feeling and thinking may be invaluable to you. American statesmanship, let me say, in passing, has declined fifty per cent at least in the last ten years, for want of just that sort of knowledge. We have had men trained for public life, not (where they should have been) among those who represent the real interests of the land, — the farmers and mechanics and merchants and manufacturers, — that is, those who make as well as those who profit by the making of our fabrics, — but among editors in their dens, vote-distributers, village and city wire-pullers, and the secondary symptoms, so to speak, of the public movements. If a man would get at the country’s sound interior sense, he must go to headquarters. “ It is better,” as dear old Professor G—— at Cambridge was so fond of telling his law students, " petere fontes, quam sectari rivos,” or, to English it, better to put your bucket in the well than to turn on the Croton, if you wish to know what spring-water really is. If pedestrian travel could only be made fashionable, as it is in Europe, what a deal of prejudice and holiday-clothes parade might be spared us. Here in New England the mind of the masses is at the mercy of the artful demagogue, in spite of various ingenious ventilators made and provided, because in so many ways the masses are first persuaded what they ought to say and then taught to say it. I do not suppose that pedestrianism is a patent medicine for all local or district disorders ; but I do say that if you want to know what a people is, you must travel among them, not be whisked through them. And if a young man wishes to lay in a good stock of health, a knowledge of his countrymen, and a fairer experience of men and things than he can get either in college or the countinghouse, he had better take up knapsack and staff, and explore either those valleys just named, the recesses of the White Hills, the little-known and glorious nooks of the Ramapo, the Berkshire glens, or the backwoods of Maine, instead of trusting himself merely to impressions picked up in hotel bar-rooms at Saratoga, Niagara, Newport, or Sharon Springs.