Other Tales and Sketches HTML version

My Visit To Niagara
Never did a pilgrim approach Niagara with deeper enthusiasm than mine. I had lingered
away from it, and wandered to other scenes, because my treasury of anticipated
enjoyments, comprising all the wonders of the world, had nothing else so magnificent,
and I was loath to exchange the pleasures of hope for those of memory so soon. At length
the day came. The stage-coach, with a Frenchman and myself on the back seat, had
already left Lewiston, and in less than an hour would set us down in Manchester. I began
to listen for the roar of the cataract, and trembled with a sensation like dread, as the
moment drew nigh, when its voice of ages must roll, for the first time, on my ear. The
French gentleman stretched himself from the window, and expressed loud admiration,
while, by a sudden impulse, I threw myself back and closed my eyes. When the scene
shut in, I was glad to think, that for me the whole burst of Niagara was yet in futurity. We
rolled on, and entered the village of Manchester, bordering on the falls.
I am quite ashamed of myself here. Not that I ran, like a madman to the falls, and plunged
into the thickest of the spray,--never stopping to breathe, till breathing was impossible:
not that I committed this, or any other suitable extravagance. On the contrary, I alighted
with perfect decency and composure, gave my cloak to the black waiter, pointed out my
baggage, and inquired, not the nearest way to the cataract, but about the dinner-hour. The
interval was spent in arranging my dress. Within the last fifteen minutes, my mind had
grown strangely benumbed, and my spirits apathetic, with a slight depression, not
decided enough to be termed sadness. My enthusiasm was in a deathlike slumber.
Without aspiring to immortality, as he did, I could have imitated that English traveller,
who turned back from the point where he first heard the thunder of Niagara, after
crossing the ocean to behold it. Many a Western trader, by the by, has performed a
similar act of heroism with more heroic simplicity, deeming it no such wonderful feat to
dine at the hotel and resume his route to Buffalo or Lewiston, while the cataract was
roaring unseen.
Such has often been my apathy, when objects, long sought, and earnestly desired, were
placed within my reach. After dinner--at which an unwonted and perverse epicurism
detained me longer than usual--I lighted a cigar and paced the piazza, minutely attentive
to the aspect and business of a very ordinary village. Finally, with reluctant step, and the
feeling of an intruder, I walked towards Goat Island. At the tollhouse, there were further
excuses for delaying the inevitable moment. My signature was required in a huge ledger,
containing similar records innumerable, many of which I read. The skin of a great
sturgeon, and other fishes, beasts, and reptiles; a collection of minerals, such as lie in
heaps near the falls; some Indian moccasons, and other trifles, made of deer-skin and
embroidered with beads; several newspapers from Montreal, New York, and Boston;--all
attracted me in turn. Out of a number of twisted sticks, the manufacture of a Tuscarora
Indian, I selected one of curled maple, curiously convoluted, and adorned with the carved
images of a snake and a fish. Using this as my pilgrim's staff, I crossed the bridge. Above
and below me were the rapids, a river of impetuous snow, with here and there a dark rock