Chocorua in Literature
THE White Mountain region in New England is well known to the tourist and the city vagrant. Certain features of its physical and its human life have even passed into literature, for, among others, Hawthorne and Whittier have lighted it with their genius. Hegel says somewhere that one thought of man is worth the whole of nature. He set the price of this commodity high, like Proudhon, because he knew he should be beaten down ; but there is no paradox in the statement that it is not the land speculator, but the poet, who enhances the real value of a mountain. And when we say poet, we distinguish clearly between the one who reports the charms of a scene in nature and him who in whatever form reflects those charms. A thousand pens may make known the attractions of some valley; but not until some one pen has drawn in lines of light the beauty which he may now see who never has set foot in the valley does the valley have that independent existence which literature gives to inanimate life. This is the function of art, to liberate, for the delight of all, that which nature keeps secret for the eye of her lovers.
The White Mountain region is buttressed on the south by what is known as the Sandwich range, a series of wooded slopes stretching from the Pemigewasset on the west to the Saco on the east, and serving thus as the base from which are drawn the two ranges of branconia and the Presidential group. Out of this range rise Sandwich Dome, Whiteface, Passaconaway, Paugus, and Chocorua, the last a mountain so individual, so nobly moulded, so kingly in its bearing, that whether seen from the distant waters of Asquam or from the triple lake which lies at its base, it commands the landscape with a strong will. The eye, following the lines which meet at its head thrown back against the northern sky, rests with content upon a form which is singularly self-centred, yet harmoniously composed with the sweep of mountain lines stretching to the west and south. The rich title which it received from the Indian chief whose story clings to it as the mist of tradition is the most satisfying name ever given to a mountain, and the voice dwells upon it as upon a strain of music.
From the base of this range of mountains flow streams of which the Bearcamp River is the most notable. Meadow and wooded slopes and sandy barrens and half-hidden lakes make the foreground and the approach to the heights, and a few farming villages with light factory industries are dotted over the landscape. The railroad skirts the neighborhood through which the mountain stages before the day of the railroad carried their lively freight during the short summer season. The comparative seclusion of the district, with its marvelous picture of mountain beauty, has attracted little by little those who enjoy nature singly rather than in crowds, and especially about Chocorua Lake are gathered the summer homes of downcountry people to the gradual extrusion of the diminishing farming folk.
It is this region which forms the theme of Mr. Bolles’s pastoral.1 In a preceding volume, Land of the Lingering Snow, he lured the reader by degrees, from jaunts about the country neighboring Boston, deeper and deeper into the mountain fastnesses, until the book closed with a few sketches of life in the Chocorua region. In this volume he leaves the city almost wholly behind him, returning to it once for an impressive contrast, and devotes himself to a chronicle of life in sunshine and storm within the brooding forest, by the shore of the gleaming lake, upon the slopes and on the summit of the mountain range.
Two or three of Mr. Bolles’s chapters have already been under the eye of readers of The Atlantic. From these, such as Alone on Chocorua at Night, and from other papers not included in the book, it is possible to get a taste of the flavor of his writing; but a careful reading of the two books which include thus far his deliberate work impresses one with the belief that in Mr. Bolles we have an artist in letters who, if he leaves these books only, will have made a distinct contribution to American literature. We are half inclined to regard him as the spokesman of a large class of cultivated men and women, —those who retire into the mountainous country with genuine but somewhat inarticulate delight in nature ; who see and hear, without distinguishing clearly, the plumage and notes of birds, who watch the changes on the mountain slopes, and follow the day as it shades into night, and the night as it blossoms into day, without the power which art gives to communicate this delight to others. The summer boarder has had his experience set forth for him by the airy story-teller. It is much that the resident in the mountain region has his emotion in the midst of the silent world of nature interpreted by the sympathetic and often profound report of a keen observer, a vigorous spirit, a delicate artist.
Mr. Bolles is this because he does not elect to be a spokesman. His individual but not isolated genius has impelled him to go " across lots,” and not keep to the highways or even footpaths which other men have laid out. As a result there is an aggressive tone to his writing which belongs to one who enjoys the freedom of nature ; but that freedom is in reaction from artificial life, and thus the expression corresponds to the feeling so sure to find a place in the minds of those who have made a temporary return to wilder scenes. The exhilaration which vibrates in his prose meets a responsive chord in the souls of readers who have been made sensitive alike by the restraint of conventional life and the unloosing which follows the rebound to nature. It is not, we suspect, the mind’s eye of a countryman which pierces the appearance of things, but his whose training has been amongst men and books while his native instinct has known a homing for the woods and fields. There is a brief passage at the close of a graphic chapter headed ’Lection Day, ’92, which illustrates well this cast of thought. Mr. Bolles had gone to Tamworth to vote, and returning had spent the evening in Boston in a newspaper office, waiting for the returns from the great presidential election. " Before sleep came to me,” he writes, " a panorama of the day swept in feverish review across my closed eyelids. I saw the surging mob in Washington Street, the group around the telegraph machine, the motley crowd in the Tamworth town hall, the baby beauty of the Ossipee plains, and then, like a benediction, came a vision of Chocorua, snowcapped and immutable in a pale blue sky, with the rosy light of the clear November morning flooding its wondrous peak.” The noble passage which forms the culminating strain in the fine description of a night on Chocorua was written by one whose thought was deepened, not created, by converse with the mysterious depths of nature.
It is this element of human thought which lifts the delightful descriptions of scenery and narrative of adventure into a higher place than commonly belongs to writing of this class, and closely allied is the element of sympathy with human life which is shot through the whole like a golden thread. Without parade, this element is conspicuous by its kindly presence, There is, for example, in the chapter from which we have just quoted a charming description of a little home in the woods on which the writer stumbled as he was returning to the railway station, and readers of A Wintry W ilderness will recall the little interior scene painted so deftly near the end of the narrative.
It is, in brief, the art of a keen and sympathetic observer of a bit of nature where man is no intruder, but a part of the scene, which makes this book a genuine piece of literature. Mr. Bolles’s sense of the life, the color, the movement of nature is very keen, and something of the swiftness of his eye has gone into the deftness of his touch. If he rests for a moment, it is only because he would catch some tremulous moment and hold it for his reader. For the most part, it is an art which transfers the passion, the stir, the moving force of a world pulsating with life to the printed page, and renews through literature, in sentences compact yet flowing, something of that divine beauty which is impressed upon the eyes of those who have the good fortune to know the little world of Chocorua.
- At the North of Beareamp Water: Chronicles of a Stroller in New England from duly to De-cember. By FRANK BOLLES. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1893.↩