Obrázky stránek

"It is over for the time," answered Rebecca. “Our friends strengthen themselves within the outwork which they have mastered, and it affords them so good a shelter from the foeman's shot, that the garrison only bestows a few bolts on it, from interval to interval, as if rather to disquiet than effectually to injure them.”



WASHINGTON IRVING, the most popular of American authors, and one of the most popular writers in the English language during his time, was born in New York, April 8, 1783; and died November 28, 1859. His numerous works are too well known to need enumeration; and his countrymen are so familiar with the graces of his style and the charm of his delightful genius, that any extended criticism would be superfluous. His writings are remarkable for their combination of rich and original humor with great refinement of feeling and delicacy of sentiment. His humor is unstained by coarseness, and his sentiment is neither mawkish nor morbid. His style is carefully finished, and in his most elaborate productions the uniform music of his cadences approaches monotony. He is an accurate observer, and his descriptions are correct, animated, and beautiful. In his biographical and historical works his style is flowing, easy, and transparent. His personal character was affectionate and amiable, and these traits penetrate his writings, and constitute no small portion of their charm. Few writers have ever awakened in their readers a stronger personal interest than Irving; and the sternest critic could not deal harshly with an author who showed himself to be so gentle and kindly a man.

TO 10 an American visiting Europe, the long voyage he

has to make is an excellent preparative. From the moment you lose sight of the land you have left, all is vacancy until you step on the opposite shore, and are launched at once into the bustle and novelties of another world.

I have said that at sea all is vacancy. I should correct the expression. To one given up to day-dreaming, and fond of losing himself in reveries, a sea-voyage is full of subjects for meditation; but then they are the wonders of the deep, and of the air, and rather tend to abstract the mind from worldly themes. I delighted to loll over the quarter-railing, or climb to the main-top on a calm day, and muse for hours together on the tranquil bosom of a summer's sea; or to gaze upon the piles of golden clouds just peering above the horizon, fancy them some fairy realms, and people them with a creation of my own; or to watch the gentle undulating billows, rolling their silver volumes as if to die away on those happy shores.

There was a delicious sensation of mingled security and awe, with which I looked down, from my giddy height, on the monsters of the deep at their uncouth gambols, — shoals of porpoises tumbling about the bow of the ship; the grampus, slowly heaving his huge form above the surface; or the ravenous shark, darting like a specter through the blue waters. My imagination would conjure up all that I had heard or read of the watery world beneath me; of the finny herds that roam its

fathomless valleys; of shapeless monsters that lurk · among the very foundations of the earth; and of those

wild phantasms that swell the tales of fishermen and sailors.

Sometimes a distant sail, gliding along the edge of the ocean, would be another theme of idle speculation. How interesting this fragment of a world hastening to rejoin the great mass of existence! What a glorious monument of human invention, that has thus triumphed over wind and wave; has brought the ends of the earth in communion; has established an interchange of blessings, pouring into the sterile regions of the North all the luxuries of the South ; diffused the light of knowledge and the charities of cultivated life; and has thus bound together those scattered portions of the human race, between which nature seemed to have thrown an insurmountable barrier!

We one day descried some shapeless object drifting at a distance. At sea, everything that breaks the monotony of the surrounding expanse attracts attention. It proved to be the mast of a ship that must have been completely wrecked; for there were the remains of handkerchiefs, by which some of the crew had fastened themselves to this spar, to prevent their being washed off by the waves. There was no trace by which the name of the ship could be ascertained. The wreck had evidently drifted about for many months; clusters of shell-fish had fastened about it, and long sea-weeds flaunted at its sides. But where, thought I, are the crew? Their struggle has long been over; they have gone down amidst the roar of the tempest; their bones lie whitening in the caverns of the deep. Silence, oblivion, like the waves, have closed over them, and no one can tell the story of their end.

What sighs have been wafted after that ship! what prayers offered up at the deserted fireside of home! How often has the mistress, the wife, and the mother pored over the daily news to catch some casual intelligence of this rover of the deep! How has expectation darkened into anxiety, anxiety into dread, and dread into despair ! Alas! not one memento shall ever return for love to cherish. All that shall ever be known is, that she sailed from her port, “and was never heard of more.”

The sight of the wreck, as usual, gave rise to many dismal anecdotes. This was particularly the case in the evening, when the weather, which had hitherto been fair, began to look wild and threatening, and gave indications of one of those sudden storms that will sometimes break in upon the serenity of a summer voyage. As we sat round the dull light of a lamp in the cabin, that made the gloom more ghastly, every one had his tale of shipwreck and disaster. I was particularly struck with a short one related by the captain.

“As I was once sailing,” said he, “in a fine, stout ship, across the banks of Newfoundland, one of the heavy fogs, that prevail in those parts, rendered it impossible for me to see far ahead, even in the daytime; but at night the weather was so thick that we could not distinguish any object at twice the length of our ship. I kept lights at the mast-head, and a constant watch forward to look out for fishing-smacks, which are accustomed to lie at anchor on the banks. The wind was blowing a smacking breeze, and we were going at a great rate through the water. Suddenly the watch gave the alarm of 'a sail ahead !' but it was scarcely uttered till we were upon

her. She was a small schooner at anchor, with her broadside towards us. The crew were all asleep, and had neglected to hoist a light. We struck her just amidships. The force, the size and weight of our vessel, bore her down below the waves; we passed over her, and were hurried

on our course.

As the crashing wreck was sinking beneath us, I had a glimpse of two or three half-naked wretches rushing from her cabin; they had just started from their beds to be swallowed shrieking by the waves. I heard their drowning cry mingling with the wind. The blast that bore it to our ears swept us out of all further hearing. I shall never forget that cry! It was some time before we could put the ship about, she was under such headway. We returned, as nearly as we could guess, to the place where the smack was anchored. We cruised about for several hours in the dense fog. We fired several guns,

ors ;

and listened if we might hear the halloo of any surviv

but all was silent, - we never heard nor saw anything of them more!”

It was a fine sunny morning when the thrilling cry of "land!” was given from the mast-head. I question whether Columbus, when he discovered the New World, felt a more delicious throng of sensations, than rush into an American's bosom when he first comes in sight of Europe. There is a volume of associations in the very name.

It is the land of promise, teeming with everything of which his childhood has heard, or on which his studious years have pondered.

From that time until the period of arrival, it was all feverish excitement. The ships of war, that prowled like guardian giants around the coast; the headlands of Ireland, stretching out into the channel; the Welsh mountains, towering into the clouds,—all were objects of intense interest. As we sailed up the Mersey, I reconnoitered the shores with a telescope. My eye dwelt with delight on neat cottages, with their trim shrubberies and green grassplots. I saw the mouldering ruins of an abbey overrun with ivy, and the taper spire of a village church rising from the brow of a neighboring hill; all were characteristic of England.



THE following extract is from the “Pleasures of Hope.” The events which it commemorates took place in 1794. Warsaw was captured by the Russians in November of that year. Kosciusko did not literally “ fall,” that is, die, at that time. He was severely wounded and taken prisoner in a battle shortly before the capture of Warsaw, but he lived till 1817. “Sarmatia” is used poetically for Poland, being the

« PředchozíPokračovat »