« PreviousContinue »
had lost its novelty, and with it many of its charms. The hours followed each other heavily, the coach seemed to move with a melancholy slowness, and I began fairly to wish myself at the end of my journey. All whom I passed looked coldly at me, or only looked at the horses, and I could not recognise a single countenance that I had seen before. I attempted to talk to the driver, a fellow in a red bottle nose, and eyes that looked ruefully through a scarlet border; but either he had not taken his morning dram, or had drank too much over night, and his replies were quite laconic and not very civil. Every habitation that I passed increased my melancholy; for it reminded me of glad looks, and the greetings of friends, and of fireside enjoyments in which I could not participate. The world seemed to me a dreary, comfortless kind of place; and I would have given the whole of it to have seen even the old cur that used to follow me in my walks, or the cat that slept by my kitchen fire. Then came a vision of dear faces that I had left behind me, and their parting words sounded in my ears. I counted the miles that must be travelled before I finished my journey. I looked at the road that lay before me; it seemed stretching to an immeasurable distance. The interval that must elapse before my return swelled to an age, an eternity; and the lumbering coach, as it moved heavily along, seemed carrying me for ever from all that I loved.
At length the driver stopped at a public house to water his horses, and when he was ready to set out again, I was not displeased to see him open the coach door to admit another tra. veller. An odd figure entered, and took a seat directly facing
He was rather tall, and exceedingly lank and narrow shouldered; but his large hands and feet, and the coarse articulations of his shrunken limbs, showed him to be the degenerate descendant of a hardy and robust ancestry of ploughmen and wood cutters. His features, which the sun had seldom been permitted to visit, and which wore no marks of mental labor, or of the agitation of the passions, were overspread with a complexion fair even to feminine delicacy, enlivened, at the same time, with a tolerably fresh and healthful tint. He carried in his hand a cotton umbrella, and wore a large white hat, and a coat of coarse bottle-green cloth, ill-made but neatly brushed. His hair was tied up in a club, as was the fashion thirty years ago, and his feet were equipped with a pair of sheepskin shoes, not much the worse for wear.
I was so much occupied in contemplating the strange figure before me, with his singular travelling dress, that we had pro
ceeded a considerable distance before I made any attempt to engage him in conversation. He, in the mean time, seemed so agreeably engaged in his own meditations, that it would have been perfect cruelty to interrupt him. He was looking about him with a complacent simper, now and then attempting a very delicate hem, and occasionally employed in pulling the great joints of his long fingers till they gave a cracking sound, or brushing off stray particles of lint that had trespassed on the sacred precincts of his pantaloons, and the sleeves of his coat.
It was a fine day in June, and the air had been freshened by a shower which had fallen the preceding night. The clocks in the farm houses were striking the hour of eleven as we passed; the fogs had rolled away from the upland on which we were travelling, and were gathered over a deep valley, from which we could hear the sound of a river, whose course they were following off to the southeast. I broke our long silence by a remark to my fellow traveller, about the beauty of the morning. “It is a very fine morning indeed, sir," replied he, briskly ;
“The East is as warm as the light of first hopes.”” I was somewhat puzzled to conjecture how this quotation could have any propriety, at a time of day which seemed to me more like noon than like the break of morning; but one thing at least I could infer from it, and this was perhaps all that he meant I should do, namely, that he had read Lalla Rookh. He, however, was apparently quite as well satisfied with his quotation, as I was embarrassed by it. A considerable pause ensued in our conversation, while I was in perplexity to find a meaning in what he had said, and he was luxuriating in the agreeable consciousness of having uttered a good thing. When we were a little recovered from this, our conversation took a literary turn. I found my companion exceedingly profound upon the subject of reviews and magazines. He remarked that the North American Review was very ably conducted, and had a very extensive circulation, and that Silliman's Journal of Science and Arts was a work that did great honour to the country. He also observed, that Blackwood's Magazine and Campbell's New Monthly furnished very pleasant reading; that the Edinburgh Review was a little too much in the habit of cutting up the authors that fell in its way, and that the Quarterly had lost many of its friends in the United States, by its indiscriminate abuse of our country. Along with these very ingenious and very novel observations, and many others equally so, he gave me an account of books that had just appeared, and of works in the press, by which I
perceived that he was deeply read in the quarterly lists of new publications. Some of these books he had actually seen, others he had even taken into his hands, and some he had gone so far as to open and look into, but I could not bring him to confess that he had read any of them. “It is a dull task you know,” said he, "to read a book through." In this manner he continued to entertain me, till we came opposite to the door of a small house which he said was his, and at which he directed the driver to stop. On getting out, he very cordially bid me adieu ; adding, that as I seemed to be of a literary turn, he hoped, if my engagements should ever again bring me that way, I would do him the favor to call and see him at his house, where he should take great pleasure in showing me his collections in natural history, and certain other curiosities, which he was very sure would interest me.
I thought no more of my stage coach acquaintance till the next winter, when some professional business carried me again into the neighborhood of which he was an inhabitant. I took up my quarters at an inn, at a little distance from his dwelling. My landlord, a knowing, communicative sort of man,
of whom I made an inquiry respecting him, told me that he was the son of a wealthy farmer in these parts, who finding him of a delicate constitution in his childhood, a timid, puny boy of whom he could expect little assistance in his agricultural labors, had sent him to college. That after taking his degree, he passed the qsual time in the office of a lawyer in an adjoining town; and on being admitted to practice, about seven or eight years since, had opened an office in the neighbourhood. The first and only cause in which he was engaged, was an action of trespass, brought by him in favor of a very litigious fellow, against one of his neighbors whose, geese had entered his close, and cropped and spoiled his grass. In this action he had the misfortune to be nonsuited by the magistrate before whom the cause was tried, on the ground that there was no law for Whether it was on account of his failure in this first attempt, or on account of the singularity of his manners, which gave the good people of the place no high idea of his capacity for business, my landlord would not undertake to say; but so it was, that nobody was known to apply to him in the way of his profession, afterwards. He accordingly became discouraged, shut up his office, and was then living on a farm belonging to his father; from the rent of which, with great economy, except a little extravagance, as my landlord called it, in the purchase of books, he managed to support himself, and even, as the neighVOL. I.
bors thought, to lay up money. In the mean time, he passed his summers in journeys to different parts of the country; or in rambling about the fields and the sides of ponds, with an umbrella over his head, picking up weeds and pebbles; while his winters were employed in arranging the collections of the summer, dipping into books, scribbling, and mending his study fire. My curiosity was somewhat excited by the account my
landlord gave me of this singular personage. I recollected his invitation, and being desirous to examine a little more nearly a character which had so exotic an appearance in this practical country, I determined to make him a visit. I went the next morning to his house. A great deal of snow had fallen, and had been blown by the wind into enormous heaps. When I came to the house of my literary friend, I found the door next to the street defended by a huge pyramidal drift, the crest of which, rising higher than the top of the door, curled over towards the southeast, and seemed to intimate a sort of defiance to any body who might be disposed to enter. I observed, however, a small footpath leading to a postern door, and followed it in the hope of gaining admission in that quarter. At this door I knocked, and after I had waited some time it was opened by a figure that came crouching and shivering through a dark kitchen, with a pamphlet in his hand, and whom, notwithstanding the length of his beard and the feathers on his thread-bare coat, I easily recognised as my old friend of the stage coach, wearing still the identical sheepskin shoes. He received me very cordially, ushered me into an apartment,
“ Which served him for study, for parlour and all,” and in which sat an old housekeeper knitting, placed a chair for me, and in honor of my visit, selected from a basket of chips that stood in the chimney corner, two of the very largest, and added them to the fire. After a moment's conversation, he invited me to look at his collection of minerals. He showed me a small cabinet of specimens, neatly arranged and mostly labelled; among which lay several slips of paper, on which was written a prohibition to strangers against handling them. He ran over the hard German names which abound in the nomenclature of that science, with such volubility, that it seemed as if each gigantic polysyllable was hastening, with all precipitation, to get out of the way of the still more unwieldly and formidable ones that closely followed it. He informed me, that a large proportion of the specimens before me, had been collected by himself; the surrounding country being very abundant in minerals.
Upon my observing that he must have been very diligent in his researches, he rubbed his hands, and told me with a grin, that he believed there was not a rock, nor a stone fence, nor the channel of a brook, within five miles of his house, which he had left unexamined. “Besides," said I," it must be a matter of no small labour to ascertain the characters of the different specimens, and determine the species to which they belong.” At this my friend looked grave, and said that he hoped I did not suppose that whenever he met with a mineral of which he did not know the name, he sat down with a book in one hand and the specimen in the other, in order to search for its description; that this would be an intolerable drudgery, and that it would require an accurate acquaintance with the technology of the science, which, I must know, it was no easy matter to obtain. He went on to inform me that his method was to send duplicates, carefully numbered, of all the specimens that came into his hands, to Professor Silliman, of Yale College, or some other eminent mineralogist, who in return named them for him; by which means a great deal of trouble was saved, and all mistakes prevented.
“Now, sir," said he, displaying several blank volumes in folio, with leaves of brown paper, “ I am going to show you my herbarium. In these volumes,”—and as he spoke he opened them one by one, and turned over the leaves with great deliberation, showing me a moderate sized collection of dried plants, neatly put up,—" in these volumes are deposited the specimens which are named and labelled; and in this other volume,” showing me one which looked a little more shabbily than the rest, “ I keep the plants which I have collected, but of which I have not yet received the names. I take the same method with my plants that I do with my minerals. I get Dr. Torrey, or Professor Eaton, to ive me their names, and then I am certain of having the right ones."
His next movement was to give me a sight of his library. He unlocked a large chest, and raising the lid, showed me where, secure from dust, and the irreverent hands of ordinary readers, reposed a few books of the best editions, their binding and edges glistening as if they had just come from the bookseller's. I took up, probably with too hasty hands, one of these well guarded volumes, when the proprietor gravely desired me to be careful not to soil the leaves and binding; " for when that is done,” said he, “the beauty of the book is lost, you know." I begged his pardon, and replaced the volume with as much veneration as if it had been a holy relic. “There,” said he point.