Mr. Mark Magnuson
American Studies Reader
Nicolet High School 2011-2012
Semester One Reader
(Selection from Chapter 2)
The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the
sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its
cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into
terror when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled and tossed
up to see if I were sound by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that
I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me.
Their complexions too differing so much from ours, their long hair, and the
language they spoke, (which was very different from any I had ever heard)
united to confirm me in this belief. Indeed such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment,
that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged
my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country. When I looked round the ship too and
saw a large furnace or copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained
together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my
fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. When I
recovered a little I found some black people about me, who I believed were some of those who brought
me on board, and had been receiving their pay; they talked to me in order to cheer me, but all in vain. I
asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces, and loose hair.
They told me I was not; and one of the crew brought me a small portion of spirituous liquor in a wine
glass; but, being afraid of him, I would not take it out of his hand. One of the blacks therefore took it from
him and gave it to me, and I took a little down my palate, which, instead of reviving me, as they thought it
would, threw me into the greatest consternation at the strange feeling it produced, having never tasted any
such liquor before. Soon after this the blacks who brought me on board went off, and left me abandoned
to despair. I now saw myself deprived of all chance of returning to my native country, or even the least
glimpse of hope of gaining the shore, which I now considered as friendly; and I even wished for my
former slavery in preference to my present situation, which was filled with horrors of every kind, still
heightened by my ignorance of what I was to undergo. I was not long suffered to indulge my grief; I was
soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never
experienced in my life: so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so
sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste any thing. I now wished for the
last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on
my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across I think the windlass, and
tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. I had never experienced any thing of this kind before;
and although, not being used to the water, I naturally feared that element the first time I saw it, yet
nevertheless, could I have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side, but I could not; and,
besides, the crew used to watch us very closely who were not chained down to the decks, lest we should
leap into the water: and I have seen some of these poor African prisoners most severely cut for attempting
to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating. This indeed was often the case with myself. In a little time
after, amongst the poor chained men, I found some of my own nation, which in a small degree gave ease
to my mind. I inquired of these what was to be done with us; they gave me to understand we were to be
carried to these white people's country to work for them. I then was a little revived, and thought, if it were
no worse than working, my situation was not so desperate: but still I feared I should be put to death, the
white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner; for I had never seen among any
people such instances of brutal cruelty; and this not only shewn towards us blacks, but also to some of the
whites themselves. One white man in particular I saw, when we were permitted to be on deck, flogged so
unmercifully with a large rope near the foremast, that he died in consequence of it; and they tossed him
over the side as they would have done a brute. This made me fear these people the more; and I expected
nothing less than to be treated in the same manner. I could not help expressing my fears and
apprehensions to some of my countrymen: I asked them if these people had no country, but lived in this
hollow place (the ship): they told me they did not, but came from a distant one. 'Then,' said I, 'how comes
it in all our country we never heard of them?' They told me because they lived so very far off. I then asked
where were their women? had they any like themselves? I was told they had: 'and why,' said I,'do we not
see them?' they answered, because they were left behind. I asked how the vessel could go? they told me
they could not tell; but that there were cloths put upon the masts by the help of the ropes I saw, and then
the vessel went on; and the white men had some spell or magic they put in the water when they liked in
order to stop the vessel. I was exceedingly amazed at this account, and really thought they were spirits. I
therefore wished much to be from amongst them, for I expected they would sacrifice me: but my wishes
were vain; for we were so quartered that it was impossible for any of us to make our escape. While we
stayed on the coast I was mostly on deck; and one day, to my great astonishment, I saw one of these
vessels coming in with the sails up. As soon as the whites saw it, they gave a great shout, at which we
were amazed; and the more so as the vessel appeared larger by approaching nearer. At last she came to an
anchor in my sight, and when the anchor was let go I and my countrymen who saw it were lost in
astonishment to observe the vessel stop; and were not convinced it was done by magic. Soon after this the
other ship got her boats out, and they came on board of us, and the people of both ships seemed very glad
to see each other. Several of the strangers also shook hands with us black people, and made motions with
their hands, signifying I suppose we were to go to their country; but we did not understand them. At last,
when the ship we were in had got in all her cargo, they made ready with many fearful noises, and we were
all put under deck, so that we could not see how they managed the vessel. But this disappointment was
the least of my sorrow. The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome,
that it was dangerous to remain there for any time, and some of us had been permitted to stay on the deck
for the fresh air; but now that the whole ship's cargo were confined together, it became absolutely
pestilential. The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which
was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious
perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and
brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims to the improvident
avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling
of the chains, now become insupportable; and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often
fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the
whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable. Happily perhaps for myself I was soon reduced so low here
that it was thought necessary to keep me almost always on deck; and from my extreme youth I was not
put in fetters. In this situation I expected every hour to share the fate of my companions, some of whom
were almost daily brought upon deck at the point of death, which I began to hope would soon put an end
to my miseries. Often did I think many of the inhabitants of the deep much more happy than myself. I
envied them the freedom they enjoyed, and as often wished I could change my condition for theirs. Every
circumstance I met with served only to render my state more painful, and heighten my apprehensions, and
my opinion of the cruelty of the whites. One day they had taken a number of fishes; and when they had
killed and satisfied themselves with as many as they thought fit, to our astonishment who were on the
deck, rather than give any of them to us to eat as we expected, they tossed the remaining fish into the sea
again, although we begged and prayed for some as well as we could, but in vain; and some of my
countrymen, being pressed by hunger, took an opportunity, when they thought no one saw them, of trying
to get a little privately; but they were discovered, and the attempt procured them some very severe
floggings. One day, when we had a smooth sea and moderate wind, two of my wearied countrymen who
were chained together (I was near them at the time), preferring death to such a life of misery, somehow
made through the nettings and jumped into the sea: immediately another quite dejected fellow, who, on
account of his illness, was suffered to be out of irons, also followed their example; and I believe many
more would very soon have done the same if they had not been prevented by the ship's crew, who were
instantly alarmed. Those of us that were the most active were in a moment put down under the deck, and
there was such a noise and confusion amongst the people of the ship as I never heard before, to stop her,
and get the boat out to go after the slaves. However two of the wretches were drowned, but they got the
other, and afterwards flogged him unmercifully for thus attempting to prefer death to slavery. In this
manner we continued to undergo more hardships than I can now relate, hardships which are inseparable
from this accursed trade. Many a time we were near suffocation from the want of fresh air, which we
were often without for whole days together. This, and the stench of the necessary tubs, carried off many.
During our passage I first saw flying fishes, which surprised me very much: they used frequently to fly
across the ship, and many of them fell on the deck. I also now first saw the use of the quadrant; I had
often with astonishment seen the mariners make observations with it, and I could not think what it meant.
They at last took notice of my surprise; and one of them, willing to increase it, as well as to gratify my
curiosity, made me one day look through it. The clouds appeared to me to be land, which disappeared as
they passed along. This heightened my wonder; and I was now more persuaded than ever that I was in
another world, and that every thing about me was magic. At last we came in sight of the island of
Barbadoes, at which the whites on board gave a great shout, and made many signs of joy to us. We did
not know what to think of this; but as the vessel drew nearer we plainly saw the harbour, and other ships
of different kinds and sizes; and we soon anchored amongst them off Bridge Town. Many merchants and
planters now came on board, though it was in the evening. They put us in separate parcels, and examined
us attentively. They also made us jump, and pointed to the land, signifying we were to go there. We
thought by this we should be eaten by these ugly men, as they appeared to us; and, when soon after we
were all put down under the deck again, there was much dread and trembling among us, and nothing but
bitter cries to be heard all the night from these apprehensions, insomuch that at last the white people got
some old slaves from the land to pacify us. They told us we were not to be eaten, but to work, and were
soon to go on land, where we should see many of our country people. This report eased us much; and sure
enough, soon after we were landed, there came to us Africans of all languages. We were conducted
immediately to the merchant's yard, where we were all pent up together like so many sheep in a fold,
without regard to sex or age. As every object was new to me every thing I saw filled me with surprise.
What struck me first was that the houses were built with stories, and in every other respect different from
those in Africa: but I was still more astonished on seeing people on horseback. I did not know what this
could mean; and indeed I thought these people were full of nothing but magical arts. While I was in this
astonishment one of my fellow prisoners spoke to a countryman of his about the horses, who said they
were the same kind they had in their country. I understood them, though they were from a distant part of
Africa, and I thought it odd I had not seen any horses there; but afterwards, when I came to converse with
different Africans, I found they had many horses amongst them, and much larger than those I then saw.
We were not many days in the merchant's custody before we were sold after their usual manner, which is
this:—On a signal given,(as the beat of a drum) the buyers rush at once into the yard where the slaves are
confined, and make choice of that parcel they like best. The noise and clamour with which this is
attended, and the eagerness visible in the countenances of the buyers, serve not a little to increase the
apprehensions of the terrified Africans, who may well be supposed to consider them as the ministers of
that destruction to which they think themselves devoted. In this manner, without scruple, are relations and
friends separated, most of them never to see each other again. I remember in the vessel in which I was
brought over, in the men's apartment, there were several brothers, who, in the sale, were sold in different
lots; and it was very moving on this occasion to see and hear their cries at parting. O, ye nominal
Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all
men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends
to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice?
Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still
to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small
comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their
children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which,
while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the
wretchedness of slavery.
Chapter IX
September 6 [1620].
These troubles being blown over, and now all being compact together in one ship, they put to sea again
with a prosperous wind, which continued divers days together, which was some encouragement unto
them; yet, according to the usual manner, many were afflicted with seasickness. And I may not omit here
a special work of God's providence. There was a proud and very profane young man, one of the seamen,
of a lusty, able body, which made him the more haughty; he would alway be contemning the poor people
in their sickness and cursing them daily with grievous execrations; and did not let to tell them that he
hoped to help to cast half of them overboard before they came to their journey's end, and to make merry
with what they had; and if he were by any gently reproved, he would curse and swear most bitterly. But it
pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which
he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard. Thus his curses
light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the just hand of
God upon him.
After they had enjoyed fair winds and weather for a season, they were encountered many times with cross
winds and met with many fierce storms with which the ship was shroudly 1 shaken, and her upper works
made very leaky; and one of the main beams in the midships was bowed and cracked, which put them in
some fear that the ship could not be able to perform the voyage. So some of the chief of the company,
perceiving the mariners to fear the sufficiency of the ship as appeared by their mutterings, they entered
into serious consultation with the master and other officers of the ship, to consider in time of the danger,
and rather to return than to cast themselves into a desperate and inevitable peril. And truly there was great
distraction and difference of opinion amongst the mariners themselves; fain would they do what could be
done for their wages' sake (being now near half the seas over) and on the other hand they were loath to
hazard their lives too desperately. But in examining of all opinions, the master and others affirmed they
knew the ship to be strong and firm under water; and for the buckling of the main beam, there was a great
iron screw the passengers brought out of Holland, which would raise the beam into his place; the which
being done, the carpenter and master affirmed that with a post put under it, set firm in the lower deck and
otherways bound, he would make it sufficient. And as for the decks and upper works, they would caulk
them as well as they could, and though with the working of the ship they would not long keep staunch,
yet there would otherwise be no great danger, if they did not overpress her with sails. So they committed
themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed.
In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of
sail, but were forced to hu11 2 for divers days together. And in one of them, as they thus lay at hull in a
mighty storm, a lusty 3 young man called John Howland, coming upon some occasion above the gratings
was, with a seele 4 of the ship, thrown into sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail
halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length. Yet he held his hold (though he was sundry fathoms
under water) till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hook
and other means got into the ship again and his life saved. And though he was something ill with it, yet he
lived many years after and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth. In all this
voyage there died but one of the passengers, which was William Butten, a youth, servant to Samuel
Fuller, when they drew near the coast.
But to omit other things (that I may be brief) after long beating at sea they fell with that land which is
called Cape Cod; 5 the which being made and certainly known to be it, they were not a little joyful. After
some deliberation had amongst themselves and with the master of the ship, they tacked about and
resolved to stand for the southward (the wind and weather being fair) to find some place about Hudson's
River for their habitation. 6But after they had sailed that course about half the day, they fell among
dangerous shoals and roaring breakers, and they were so far entangled therewith as they conceived
themselves in great danger; and the wind shrinking upon them withal, they resolved to bear up again for
the Cape and thought themselves happy to get out of those dangers before night overtook them, as by
God's good providence they did. And the next day 7they got into the Cape Harbors where they rid in
[The Starving Time]
…But that which was most sad and lamentable was, that in two or three months' time half of their
company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and
other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage and their
inaccommodate condition had brought upon them. So as there died some times two or three of a day in
the foresaid time, that of 100 and odd persons, scarce fifty remained. And of these, in the time of most
distress, there was but six or seven persons who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no
pains night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made
them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed
them. In a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs
cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least,
showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren; a rare example and worthy to be
remembered. Two of these seven were Mr. William Brewster, their reverend Elder, and Myles Standish,
their Captain and military commander, unto whom myself and many others were much beholden in our
low and sick condition. And yet the Lord so upheld these persons as in this general calamity they were not
at all infected either with sickness or lameness. And what I have said of these I may say of many others
who died in this general visitation, and others yet living: that wilst they had health, yea, or any strength
continuing, they were not wanting to any that had need of them. And I doubt not but their recompense is
with the Lord.
But I may not here pass by another remarkable passage not to be forgotten. As this calamity fell among
the passengers that were to be left here to plant, and were hasted ashore and made to drink water that the
seaman might have the more beer, and one in his sickness desiring but a small can of beer, it was
answered that if he were their own father he should have none. The disease began to fall amongst them
also, so as almost half of their company died before they went away, and many of their officers and
lustiest men, as the boatswain, gunner, three quartermasters, the cook and others. At which the Master
was something strucken and sent to the sick ashore and told the Governor he should send for beer for
them that had need of it, though he drunk water homeward bound.
---------------1 An old form of shrewdly in its original meaning wickedly.
2 To heave or lay-to under very short sail and drift with the wind.
3 Lively, merry; no sexual connotation. Howland, a servant of Governor Carver, rose to be one of the
leading men of the Colony.
4 Roll or pitch.
5 At daybreak 9/19 Nov. 1620, they sighted the Highlands of Cape Cod.
Before the Birth of One of Her Children – Anne Bradstreet
All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death's parting blow are sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable,
A common thing, yet oh, inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon't may be thy lot to lose thy friend,
We both are ignorant, yet love bids me
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,
That when the knot's untied that made us one,
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.
And if I see not half my days that's due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;
The many faults that well you know I have
Let be interred in my oblivious grave;
If any worth or virtue were in me,
Let that live freshly in thy memory
And when thou feel'st no grief, as I no harmes,
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved'st me,
These O protect from stepdame's injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honor my absent hearse;
And kiss this paper for thy dear love's sake,
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.
Upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666 – Anne Bradstreet
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow neer I did not look,
I waken'd was with thundring nois
And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice.
That fearfull sound of fire and fire,
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spye,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my Distresse
And not to leave me succourlesse.
Then coming out beheld a space,
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dust:
Yea so it was, and so 'twas just.
It was his own: it was not mine;
Far be it that I should repine.
He might of All justly bereft,
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.
Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest;
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.
No pleasant tale shall 'ere be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle 'ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom's voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adieu, Adeiu; All's vanity.
Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And didst thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.
Thou hast an house on high erect
Fram'd by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent tho' this bee fled.
It's purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.
A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther's wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – Jonathan Edwards (Enfield, Connecticut July 8, 1741)
Their foot shall slide in due time. Deuteronomy 32:35
In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God's
visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God's wonderful
works towards them, remained (as vers 28.) void of counsel, having no understanding in them. Under all
the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as in the two verses next
preceding the text. -- The expression I have chosen for my text, their foot shall slide in due time, seems
to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites
were exposed.
1. That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is
always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them,
being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, Psalm 73:18. "Surely thou didst set
them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction."
2. It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in
slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall
stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also
expressed in Psalm 73:18,19. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them
down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!"
3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by
the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own
weight to throw him down.
4. That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God's appointed
time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall
slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold
them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant,
they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of
a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.
The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. -- "There is nothing that keeps
wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God." -- By the mere pleasure of
God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner
of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God's mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect
whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment. -- The truth of this observation
may appear by the following consideration.
1. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men's hands
cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any
deliver out of his hands. -- He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily
do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has
found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But
it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though
hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God's enemies combine and associate themselves, they
are easily broken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large
quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm
that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing
hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell. What are we,
that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom
the rocks are thrown down?
2. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no
objection against God's using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary,
justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that
brings forth such grapes of Sodom, "Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?" Luke 13:7. The
sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the
hand of arbitrary mercy, and God's mere will, that holds it back.
3. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be
cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of
righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands
against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18. "He that believeth not is
condemned already." So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place;
from thence he is, John 8:23. "Ye are from beneath:" And thither he is bound; it is the place that
justice, and God's word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assign to him.
4. They are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God, that is expressed in the
torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because
God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as he is with many miserable
creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea, God is a
great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that
are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are
now in the flames of hell.
So that it is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does
not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, though
they may imagine him to be so. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not
slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them;
the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit
hath opened its mouth under them.
5. The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall
permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The
scripture represents them as his goods, Luke 11:12. The devils watch them; they are ever by them
at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and
expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which
they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is
gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they
would be hastily swallowed up and lost.
6. There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently
kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God's restraints. There is laid in the very
nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell. There are those corrupt principles, in
reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles
are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining
hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner
as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the
same torments as they do in them. The souls of the wicked are in scripture compared to the
troubled sea, Isa. 57:20. For the present, God restrains their wickedness by his mighty power, as
he does the raging waves of the troubled sea, saying, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;"
but if God should withdraw that restraining power, it would soon carry all before it. Sin is the ruin
and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint,
there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of
man is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent
up by God's restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as
the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into
fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone.
7. It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand.
It is no security to a natural man, that he is now in health, and that he does not see which way he
should now immediately go out of the world by any accident, and that there is no visible danger
in any respect in his circumstances. The manifold and continual experience of the world in all
ages, shows this is no evidence, that a man is not on the very brink of eternity, and that the next
step will not be into another world. The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going
suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men walk over the pit
of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they
will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noonday; the sharpest sight cannot discern them. God has so many different unsearchable ways of
taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it
appear, that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of
his providence, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment. All the means that there are of sinners
going out of the world, are so in God's hands, and so universally and absolutely subject to his
power and determination, that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God, whether
sinners shall at any moment go to hell, than if means were never made use of, or at all concerned
in the case.
8. Natural men's prudence and care to preserve their own lives, or the care of others to preserve
them, do not secure them a moment. To this, divine providence and universal experience do also
bear testimony. There is this clear evidence that men's own wisdom is no security to them from
death; that if it were otherwise we should see some difference between the wise and politic men
of the world, and others, with regard to their liableness to early and unexpected death: but how is
it in fact? Eccles. 2:16. "How dieth the wise man? even as the fool."
9. All wicked men's pains and contrivance which they use to escape hell, while they continue to
reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost
every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon
himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or
what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation,
and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They
hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore
are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than
others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself,
that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.
But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in
confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow. The greater part
of those who heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are
undoubtedly gone to hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now
alive: it was not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own
escape. If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected,
when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of misery: we
doubtless, should hear one and another reply, "No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out
matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself -- I thought my scheme
good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at
that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief -- Death outwitted me: God's wrath was too quick
for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams
of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction
came upon me."
10. God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one
moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or
preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises
that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen. But surely they have no
interest in the promises of the covenant of grace who are not the children of the covenant, who do
not believe in any of the promises, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.
So that, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men's earnest
seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion,
whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a
moment from eternal destruction.
So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the
fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards
them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they
have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any
promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames
gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in
their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means
within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all
that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of
an incensed God.
The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that
you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. -- That world of misery, that lake of
burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the
wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing
to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of
God that holds you up.
You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in
it; but look at other things, as the good state of your bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and
the means you use for your own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should
withdraw his hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a
person that is suspended in it.
Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and
pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and
plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best
contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of
hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God,
the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the
creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine
upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy
your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve
you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of
God's enemies. God's creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly
subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their
nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath
subjected it in hope. There are the black clouds of God's wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full
of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would
immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind;
otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be
like the chaff on the summer threshing floor.
The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and
rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and
mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not
been executed hitherto; the floods of God's vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean
time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly
rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds
the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only
withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the
fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with
omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times
greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure
The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at
your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God,
without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with
your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the
Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised
from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the
hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had
religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of
God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in
everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by
you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see
that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing
of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they
depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the
fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as
worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight;
you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in
ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is
nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing
else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after
you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into
hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be
given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure
eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to
be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit,
full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and
incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with
the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and
you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the
flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce
God to spare you one moment. -- And consider here more particularly,
1. Whose wrath it is: it is the wrath of the infinite God. If it were only the wrath of man, though it
were of the most potent prince, it would be comparatively little to be regarded. The wrath of
kings is very much dreaded, especially of absolute monarchs, who have the possessions and lives
of their subjects wholly in their power, to be disposed of at their mere will. Prov. 20:2. "The fear
of a king is as the roaring of a lion: Whoso provoketh him to anger, sinneth against his own
soul." The subject that very much enrages an arbitrary prince, is liable to suffer the most extreme
torments that human art can invent, or human power can inflict. But the greatest earthly
potentates in their greatest majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatest terrors, are but
feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty Creator and King
of heaven and earth. It is but little that they can do, when most enraged, and when they have
exerted the utmost of their fury. All the kings of the earth, before God, are as grasshoppers; they
are nothing, and less than nothing: both their love and their hatred is to be despised. The wrath of
the great King of kings, is as much more terrible than theirs, as his majesty is greater. Luke
12:4,5. "And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that,
have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: fear him, which
after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear him."
2. It is the fierceness of his wrath that you are exposed to. We often read of the fury of God; as in
Isa. 59:18. "According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay fury to his adversaries." So Isa.
66:15. "For behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render
his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire." And in many other places. So, Rev.
19:15, we read of "the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." The words are
exceeding terrible. If it had only been said, "the wrath of God," the words would have implied
that which is infinitely dreadful: but it is "the fierceness and wrath of God." The fury of God! the
fierceness of Jehovah! Oh, how dreadful that must be! Who can utter or conceive what such
expressions carry in them! But it is also "the fierceness and wrath of almighty God." As though
there would be a very great manifestation of his almighty power in what the fierceness of his
wrath should inflict, as though omnipotence should be as it were enraged, and exerted, as men are
wont to exert their strength in the fierceness of their wrath. Oh! then, what will be the
consequence! What will become of the poor worms that shall suffer it! Whose hands can be
strong? And whose heart can endure? To what a dreadful, inexpressible, inconceivable depth of
misery must the poor creature be sunk who shall be the subject of this!
Consider this, you that are here present, that yet remain in an unregenerate state. That God will
execute the fierceness of his anger, implies, that he will inflict wrath without any pity. When God
beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly
disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it
were, into an infinite gloom; he will have no compassion upon you, he will not forbear the
executions of his wrath, or in the least lighten his hand; there shall be no moderation or mercy,
nor will God then at all stay his rough wind; he will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all
careful lest you should suffer too much in any other sense, than only that you shall not suffer
beyond what strict justice requires. Nothing shall be withheld, because it is so hard for you to
bear. Ezek. 8:18. "Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have
pity; and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them." Now God
stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of
obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous
cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any
regard to your welfare. God will have no other use to put you to, but to suffer misery; you shall be
continued in being to no other end; for you will be a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and
there will be no other use of this vessel, but to be filled full of wrath. God will be so far from
pitying you when you cry to him, that it is said he will only "laugh and mock," Prov. 1:25,26,etc.
How awful are those words, Isa. 63:3, which are the words of the great God. "I will tread them in
mine anger, and will trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my
garments, and I will stain all my raiment." It is perhaps impossible to conceive of words that
carry in them greater manifestations of these three things, viz. contempt, and hatred, and
fierceness of indignation. If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your
doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you
under foot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading
upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will
crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all
his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt: no place
shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.
3. The misery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict to that end, that he might show what
that wrath of Jehovah is. God hath had it on his heart to show to angels and men, both how
excellent his love is, and also how terrible his wrath is. Sometimes earthly kings have a mind to
show how terrible their wrath is, by the extreme punishments they would execute on those that
would provoke them. Nebuchadnezzar, that mighty and haughty monarch of the Chaldean
empire, was willing to show his wrath when enraged with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego;
and accordingly gave orders that the burning fiery furnace should be heated seven times hotter
than it was before; doubtless, it was raised to the utmost degree of fierceness that human art could
raise it. But the great God is also willing to show his wrath, and magnify his awful majesty and
mighty power in the extreme sufferings of his enemies. Rom. 9:22. "What if God, willing to show
his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath
fitted to destruction?" And seeing this is his design, and what he has determined, even to show
how terrible the unrestrained wrath, the fury and fierceness of Jehovah is, he will do it to effect.
There will be something accomplished and brought to pass that will be dreadful with a witness.
When the great and angry God hath risen up and executed his awful vengeance on the poor
sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of his indignation, then
will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to
be seen in it. Isa. 33:12-14. "And the people shall be as the burnings of lime, as thorns cut up
shall they be burnt in the fire. Hear ye that are far off, what I have done; and ye that are near,
acknowledge my might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites,"
Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might,
and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable
strength of your torments. You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the
presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of
heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and
fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great
power and majesty. Isa. 66:23,24. "And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another,
and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And
they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me; for
their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring unto
all flesh."
4. It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God
one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible
misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you,
which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of
ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that
you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this
almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have
actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains.
So that your punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in
such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint
representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: For "who knows the power of God's
How dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in the danger of this great wrath and infinite
misery! But this is the dismal case of every soul in this congregation that has not been born again,
however moral and strict, sober and religious, they may otherwise be. Oh that you would consider it,
whether you be young or old! There is reason to think, that there are many in this congregation now
hearing this discourse, that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity. We know not
who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have. It may be they are now at ease,
and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the
persons, promising themselves that they shall escape. If we knew that there was one person, and but one,
in the whole congregation, that was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing would it be to
think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person! How might all the
rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him! But, alas! instead of one, how many
is it likely will remember this discourse in hell? And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present
should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some
persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting-house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there
before tomorrow morning. Those of you that finally continue in a natural condition, that shall keep out of
hell longest will be there in a little time! your damnation does not slumber; it will come swiftly, and, in all
probability, very suddenly upon many of you. You have reason to wonder that you are not already in hell.
It is doubtless the case of some whom you have seen and known, that never deserved hell more than you,
and that heretofore appeared as likely to have been now alive as you. Their case is past all hope; they are
crying in extreme misery and perfect despair; but here you are in the land of the living and in the house of
God, and have an opportunity to obtain salvation. What would not those poor damned hopeless souls give
for one day's opportunity such as you now enjoy!
And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide
open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking
to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and
south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy
state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his
own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To
see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for
joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can
you rest one moment in such a condition? Are not your souls as precious as the souls of the people at
Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ?
Are there not many here who have lived long in the world, and are not to this day born again? and so are
aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and have done nothing ever since they have lived, but treasure
up wrath against the day of wrath? Oh, sirs, your case, in an especial manner, is extremely dangerous.
Your guilt and hardness of heart is extremely great. Do you not see how generality persons of your years
are passed over and left, in the present remarkable and wonderful dispensation of God's mercy? You had
need to consider yourselves, and awake thoroughly out of sleep. You cannot bear the fierceness and wrath
of the infinite God. -- And you, young men, and young women, will you neglect this precious season
which you now enjoy, when so many others of your age are renouncing all youthful vanities, and flocking
to Christ? You especially have now an extraordinary opportunity; but if you neglect it, it will soon be
with you as with those persons who spent all the precious days of youth in sin, and are now come to such
a dreadful pass in blindness and hardness. -- And you, children, who are unconverted, do not you know
that you are going down to hell, to bear the dreadful wrath of that God, who is now angry with you every
day and every night? Will you be content to be the children of the devil, when so many other children in
the land are converted, and are become the holy and happy children of the King of kings?
And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and
women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God's word
and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favour to some, will doubtless be a
day of as remarkable vengeance to others. Men's hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a
day as this, if they neglect their souls; and never was there so great danger of such persons being given up
to hardness of heart and blindness of mind. God seems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts
of the land; and probably the greater part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now
in a little time, and that it will be as it was on the great out-pouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the
apostles' days; the election will obtain, and the rest will be blinded. If this should be the case with you,
you will eternally curse this day, and will curse the day that ever you was born, to see such a season of the
pouring out of God's Spirit, and will wish that you had died and gone to hell before you had seen it. Now
undoubtedly it is, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid at
the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the
Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of
Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of
Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be
Description: Generally supposed to represent an event in the Salem witch trials, an earlier version of this
painting was exhibited by the artist in New York in 1848 with a quotation from John Greenleaf Whittier's
book Supernaturalism of New England, 1847: "Mary Fisher, a young girl, was seized upon by Deputy
Governor Bellingham in the absence of Governor Endicott, and shamefully stripped for the purpose of
ascertaining whether she was a witch, with the Devil's mark upon her."
See, "A Study of the Life and Work of the Nineteenth Century Artist Tompkins Harrison
Matteson (1813-1884), by Harriet Hocter Groeschel, M.A. thesis, Syracuse University, 1985, pp.
Source: Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA
Letters from an American Farmer – Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crevecoeur
I wish I could be acquainted with the feelings and thoughts which must agitate the heart and present
themselves to the mind of an enlightened Englishman, when he first lands on this continent. He must
greatly rejoice that he lived at a time to see this fair country discovered and settled; he must necessarily
feel a share of national pride, when he views the chain of settlements which embellishes these extended
shores. When he says to himself, this is the work of my countrymen, who, when convulsed by factions,
afflicted by a variety of miseries and wants, restless and impatient, took refuge here. They brought along
with them their national genius, to which they principally owe what liberty they enjoy, and what
substance they possess. Here he sees the industry of his native country displayed in a new manner, and
traces in their works the embryos of all the arts, sciences, and ingenuity which nourish in Europe. Here he
beholds fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields, an immense country filled with decent houses,
good roads, orchards, meadows, and bridges, where an hundred years ago all was wild, woody, and
uncultivated! What a train of pleasing ideas this fair spectacle must suggest; it is a prospect which must
inspire a good citizen with the most heartfelt pleasure. The difficulty consists in the manner of viewing so
extensive a scene. He is arrived on a new continent; a modern society offers itself to his contemplation,
different from what he had hitherto seen. It is not composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess
everything, and of a herd of people who have nothing. Here are no aristocratical families, no courts, no
kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one; no
great manufacturers employing thousands, no great refinements of luxury. The rich and the poor are not
so far removed from each other as they are in Europe. Some few towns excepted, we are all tillers of the
earth, from Nova Scotia to West Florida. We are a people of cultivators, scattered over an immense
territory, communicating with each other by means of good roads and navigable rivers, united by the
silken bands of mild government, all respecting the laws, without dreading their power, because they are
equitable. We are all animated with the spirit of an industry which is unfettered and unrestrained, because
each person works for himself. If he travels through our rural districts he views not the hostile castle, and
the haughty mansion, contrasted with the clay- built hut and miserable cabin, where cattle and men help
to keep each other warm, and dwell in meanness, smoke, and indigence. A pleasing uniformity of decent
competence appears throughout our habitations. The meanest of our log-houses is a dry and comfortable
habitation. Lawyer or merchant are the fairest titles our towns afford; that of a farmer is the only
appellation of the rural inhabitants of our country. It must take some time ere he can reconcile himself to
our dictionary, which is but short in words of dignity, and names of honour. There, on a Sunday, he sees a
congregation of respectable farmers and their wives, all clad in neat homespun, well mounted, or riding in
their own humble waggons. There is not among them an esquire, saving the unlettered magistrate. There
he sees a parson as simple as his flock, a farmer who does not riot on the labour of others. We have no
princes, for whom we toil, starve, and bleed: we are the most perfect society now existing in the world.
Here man is free as he ought to be; nor is this pleasing equality so transitory as many others are. Many
ages will not see the shores of our great lakes replenished with inland nations, nor the unknown bounds of
North America entirely peopled. Who can tell how far it extends? Who can tell the millions of men whom
it will feed and contain? for no European foot has as yet travelled half the extent of this mighty continent!
The next wish of this traveller will be to know whence came all these people? They are a mixture of
English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race now
called Americans have arisen. The eastern provinces must indeed be excepted, as being the unmixed
descendants of Englishmen. I have heard many wish that they had been more intermixed also: for my
part, I am no wisher, and think it much better as it has happened. They exhibit a most conspicuous figure
in this great and variegated picture; they too enter for a great share in the pleasing perspective displayed
in these thirteen provinces. I know it is fashionable to reflect on them, but I respect them for what they
have done; for the accuracy and wisdom with which they have settled their territory; for the decency of
their manners; for their early love of letters; their ancient college, the first in this hemisphere; for their
industry; which to me who am but a farmer, is the criterion of everything. There never was a people,
situated as they are, who with so ungrateful a soil have done more in so short a time. Do you think that
the monarchical ingredients which are more prevalent in other governments, have purged them from all
foul stains? Their histories assert the contrary.
In this great American asylum, the poor of Europe have by some means met together, and in consequence
of various causes; to what purpose should they ask one another what countrymen they are? Alas, two
thirds of them had no country. Can a wretch who wanders about, who works and starves, whose life is a
continual scene of sore affliction or pinching penury; can that man call England or any other kingdom his
country? A country that had no bread for him, whose fields procured him no harvest, who met with
nothing but the frowns of the rich, the severity of the laws, with jails and punishments; who owned not a
single foot of the extensive surface of this planet? No! urged by a variety of motives, here they came.
Every thing has tended to regenerate them; new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system; here
they are become men: in Europe they were as so many useless plants, wanting vegetative mould, and
refreshing showers; they withered, and were mowed down by want, hunger, and war; but now by the
power of transplantation, like all other plants they have taken root and flourished! Formerly they were not
numbered in any civil lists of their country, except in those of the poor; here they rank as citizens. By
what invisible power has this surprising metamorphosis been performed? By that of the laws and that of
their industry. The laws, the indulgent laws, protect them as they arrive, stamping on them the symbol of
adoption; they receive ample rewards for their labours; these accumulated rewards procure them lands;
those lands confer on them the title of freemen, and to that title every benefit is affixed which men can
possibly require. This is the great operation daily performed by our laws. From whence proceed these
laws? From our government. Whence the government? It is derived from the original genius and strong
desire of the people ratified and confirmed by the crown. This is the great chain which links us all, this is
the picture which every province exhibits, Nova Scotia excepted.
There the crown has done all; either there were no people who had genius, or it was not much attended to:
the consequence is, that the province is very thinly inhabited indeed; the power of the crown in
conjunction with the musketos has prevented men from settling there. Yet some parts of it flourished
once, and it contained a mild harmless set of people. But for the fault of a few leaders, the whole were
banished. The greatest political error the crown ever committed in America, was to cut off men from a
country which wanted nothing but men!
What attachment can a poor European emigrant have for a country where he had nothing? The knowledge
of the language, the love of a few kindred as poor as himself, were the only cords that tied him: his
country is now that which gives him land, bread, protection, and consequence: Ubi panis ibi patria, is the
motto of all emigrants. What then is the American, this new man? He is either an European, or the
descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country.
I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose
son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He
is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from
the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He
becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all
nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes
in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims, who are carrying along with them that great mass of
arts, sciences, vigour, and industry which began long since in the east; they will finish the great circle.
The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest
systems of population which has ever appeared, and which will hereafter become distinct by the power of
the different climates they inhabit. The American ought therefore to love this country much better than
that wherein either he or his forefathers were born. Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal
steps the progress of his labour; his labour is founded on the basis of nature, SELF-INTEREST: can it
want a stronger allurement? Wives and children, who before in vain demanded of him a morsel of bread,
now, fat and frolicsome, gladly help their father to clear those fields whence exuberant crops are to arise
to feed and to clothe them all; without any part being claimed, either by a despotic prince, a rich abbot, or
a mighty lord. Here religion demands but little of him; a small voluntary salary to the minister, and
gratitude to God; can he refuse these? The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he
must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile
dependence, penury, and useless labour, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by
ample subsistence.--This is an American.
British America is divided into many provinces, forming a large association, scattered along a coast 1500
miles extent and about 200 wide. This society I would fain examine, at least such as it appears in the
middle provinces; if it does not afford that variety of tinges and gradations which may be observed in
Europe, we have colours peculiar to ourselves. For instance, it is natural to conceive that those who live
near the sea, must be very different from those who live in the woods; the intermediate space will afford a
separate and distinct class.
Men are like plants; the goodness and flavour of the fruit proceeds from the peculiar soil and exposition in
which they grow. We are nothing but what we derive from the air we breathe, the climate we inhabit, the
government we obey, the system of religion we profess, and the nature of our employment. Here you will
find but few crimes; these have acquired as yet no root among us. I wish I was able to trace all my ideas;
if my ignorance prevents me from describing them properly, I hope I shall be able to delineate a few of
the outlines, which are all I propose.
Those who live near the sea, feed more on fish than on flesh, and often encounter that boisterous element.
This renders them more bold and enterprising; this leads them to neglect the confined occupations of the
land. They see and converse with a variety of people, their intercourse with mankind becomes extensive.
The sea inspires them with a love of traffic, a desire of transporting produce from one place to another;
and leads them to a variety of resources which supply the place of labour. Those who inhabit the middle
settlements, by far the most numerous, must be very different; the simple cultivation of the earth purifies
them, but the indulgences of the government, the soft remonstrances of religion, the rank of independent
freeholders, must necessarily inspire them with sentiments, very little known in Europe among people of
the same class. What do I say? Europe has no such class of men; the early knowledge they acquire, the
early bargains they make, give them a great degree of sagacity. As freemen they will be litigious; pride
and obstinacy are often the cause of law suits; the nature of our laws and governments may be another. As
citizens it is easy to imagine, that they will carefully read the newspapers, enter into every political
disquisition, freely blame or censure governors and others. As farmers they will be careful and anxious to
get as much as they can, because what they get is their own. As northern men they will love the cheerful
cup. As Christians, religion curbs them not in their opinions; the general indulgence leaves every one to
think for themselves in spiritual matters; the laws inspect our actions, our thoughts are left to God.
Industry, good living, selfishness, litigiousness, country politics, the pride of freemen, religious
indifference, are their characteristics. If you recede still farther from the sea, you will come into more
modern settlements; they exhibit the same strong lineaments, in a ruder appearance. Religion seems to
have still less influence, and their manners are less improved.
Now we arrive near the great woods, near the last inhabited districts; there men seem to be placed still
farther beyond the reach of government, which in some measure leaves them to themselves. How can it
pervade every corner; as they were driven there by misfortunes, necessity of beginnings, desire of
acquiring large tracts of land, idleness, frequent want of economy, ancient debts; the re-union of such
people does not afford a very pleasing spectacle. When discord, want of unity and friendship; when either
drunkenness or idleness prevail in such remote districts; contention, inactivity, and wretchedness must
ensue. There are not the same remedies to these evils as in a long established community. The few
magistrates they have, are in general little better than the rest; they are often in a perfect state of war; that
of man against man, sometimes decided by blows, sometimes by means of the law; that of man against
every wild inhabitant of these venerable woods, of which they are come to dispossess them. There men
appear to be no better than carnivorous animals of a superior rank, living on the flesh of wild animals
when they can catch them, and when they are not able, they subsist on grain. He who would wish to see
America in its proper light, and have a true idea of its feeble beginnings and barbarous rudiments, must
visit our extended line of frontiers where the last settlers dwell, and where he may see the first labours of
settlement, the mode of clearing the earth, in all their different appearances; where men are wholly left
dependent on their native tempers, and on the spur of uncertain industry, which often fails when not
sanctified by the efficacy of a few moral rules. There, remote from the power of example and check of
shame, many families exhibit the most hideous parts of our society. They are a kind of forlorn hope,
preceding by ten or twelve years the most respectable army of veterans which come after them. In that
space, prosperity will polish some, vice and the law will drive off the rest, who uniting again with others
like themselves will recede still farther; making room for more industrious people, who will finish their
improvements, convert the loghouse into a convenient habitation, and rejoicing that the first heavy
labours are finished, will change in a few years that hitherto barbarous country into a fine fertile, well
regulated district. Such is our progress, such is the march of the Europeans toward the interior parts of this
continent. In all societies there are off-casts; this impure part serves as our precursors or pioneers; my
father himself was one of that class, but he came upon honest principles, and was therefore one of the few
who held fast; by good conduct and temperance, he transmitted to me his fair inheritance, when not above
one in fourteen of his contemporaries had the same good fortune.
Forty years ago this smiling country was thus inhabited; it is now purged, a general decency of manners
prevails throughout, and such has been the fate of our best countries.
Exclusive of those general characteristics, each province has its own, founded on the government,
climate, mode of husbandry, customs, and peculiarity of circumstances. Europeans submit insensibly to
these great powers, and become, in the course of a few generations, not only Americans in general, but
either Pennsylvanians, Virginians, or provincials under some other name. Whoever traverses the continent
must easily observe those strong differences, which will grow more evident in time. The inhabitants of
Canada, Massachusetts, the middle provinces, the southern ones will be as different as their climates; their
only points of unity will be those of religion and language.
As I have endeavoured to show you how Europeans become Americans; it may not be disagreeable to
show you likewise how the various Christian sects introduced, wear out, and how religious indifference
becomes prevalent. When any considerable number of a particular sect happen to dwell contiguous to
each other, they immediately erect a temple, and there worship the Divinity agreeably to their own
peculiar ideas. Nobody disturbs them. If any new sect springs up in Europe it may happen that many of its
professors will come and settle in American. As they bring their zeal with them, they are at liberty to
make proselytes if they can, and to build a meeting and to follow the dictates of their consciences; for
neither the government nor any other power interferes. If they are peaceable subjects, and are industrious,
what is it to their neighbours how and in what manner they think fit to address their prayers to the
Supreme Being? But if the sectaries are not settled close together, if they are mixed with other
denominations, their zeal will cool for want of fuel, and will be extinguished in a little time. Then the
Americans become as to religion, what they are as to country, allied to all. In them the name of
Englishman, Frenchman, and European is lost, and in like manner, the strict modes of Christianity as
practised in Europe are lost also. This effect will extend itself still farther hereafter, and though this may
appear to you as a strange idea, yet it is a very true one. I shall be able perhaps hereafter to explain myself
better; in the meanwhile, let the following example serve as my first justification.
Let us suppose you and I to be travelling; we observe that in this house, to the right, lives a Catholic, who
prays to God as he has been taught, and believes in transubstantiation; he works and raises wheat, he has a
large family of children, all hale and robust; his belief, his prayers offend nobody. About one mile farther
on the same road, his next neighbour may be a good honest plodding German Lutheran, who addresses
himself to the same God, the God of all, agreeably to the modes he has been educated in, and believes in
consubstantiation; by so doing he scandalises nobody; he also works in his fields, embellishes the earth,
clears swamps, etc. What has the world to do with his Lutheran principles? He persecutes nobody, and
nobody persecutes him, he visits his neighbours, and his neighbours visit him. Next to him lives a
seceder, the most enthusiastic of all sectaries; his zeal is hot and fiery, but separated as he is from others
of the same complexion, he has no congregation of his own to resort to, where he might cabal and mingle
religious pride with worldly obstinacy. He likewise raises good crops, his house is handsomely painted,
his orchard is one of the fairest in the neighbourhood. How does it concern the welfare of the country, or
of the province at large, what this man's religious sentiments are, or really whether he has any at all? He is
a good farmer, he is a sober, peaceable, good citizen: William Penn himself would not wish for more.
This is the visible character, the invisible one is only guessed at, and is nobody's business. Next again
lives a Low Dutchman, who implicitly believes the rules laid down by the synod of Dort. He conceives no
other idea of a clergyman than that of an hired man; if he does his work well he will pay him the
stipulated sum; if not he will dismiss him, and do without his sermons, and let his church be shut up for
years. But notwithstanding this coarse idea, you will find his house and farm to be the neatest in all the
country; and you will judge by his waggon and fat horses, that he thinks more of the affairs of this world
than of those of the next. He is sober and laborious, therefore he is all he ought to be as to the affairs of
this life; as for those of the next, he must trust to the great Creator. Each of these people instruct their
children as well as they can, but these instructions are feeble compared to those which are given to the
youth of the poorest class in Europe. Their children will therefore grow up less zealous and more
indifferent in matters of religion than their parents. The foolish vanity, or rather the fury of making
Proselytes, is unknown here; they have no time, the seasons call for all their attention, and thus in a few
years, this mixed neighbourhood will exhibit a strange religious medley, that will be neither pure
Catholicism nor pure Calvinism. A very perceptible indifference even in the first generation, will become
apparent; and it may happen that the daughter of the Catholic will marry the son of the seceder, and settle
by themselves at a distance from their parents. What religious education will they give their children? A
very imperfect one. If there happens to be in the neighbourhood any place of worship, we will suppose a
Quaker's meeting; rather than not show their fine clothes, they will go to it, and some of them may
perhaps attach themselves to that society. Others will remain in a perfect state of indifference; the
children of these zealous parents will not be able to tell what their religious principles are, and their
grandchildren still less. The neighbourhood of a place of worship generally leads them to it, and the
action of going thither, is the strongest evidence they can give of their attachment to any sect. The
Quakers are the only people who retain a fondness for their own mode of worship; for be they ever so far
separated from each other, they hold a sort of communion with the society, and seldom depart from its
rules, at least in this country. Thus all sects are mixed as well as all nations; thus religious indifference is
imperceptibly disseminated from one end of the continent to the other; which is at present one of the
strongest characteristics of the Americans. Where this will reach no one can tell, perhaps it may leave a
vacuum fit to receive other systems. Persecution, religious pride, the love of contradiction, are the food of
what the world commonly calls religion. These motives have ceased here; zeal in Europe is confined; here
it evaporates in the great distance it has to travel; there it is a grain of powder inclosed, here it burns away
in the open air, and consumes without effect.
But to return to our back settlers. I must tell you, that there is something in the proximity of the woods,
which is very singular. It is with men as it is with the plants and animals that grow and live in the forests;
they are entirely different from those that live in the plains. I will candidly tell you all my thoughts but
you are not to expect that I shall advance any reasons. By living in or near the woods, their actions are
regulated by the wildness of the neighbourhood. The deer often come to eat their grain, the wolves to
destroy their sheep, the bears to kill their hogs, the foxes to catch their poultry. This surrounding hostility
immediately puts the gun into their hands; they watch these animals, they kill some; and thus by
defending their property, they soon become professed hunters; this is the progress; once hunters, farewell
to the plough. The chase renders them ferocious, gloomy, and unsociable; a hunter wants no neighbour,
he rather hates them, because he dreads the competition. In a little time their success in the woods makes
them neglect their tillage. They trust to the natural fecundity of the earth, and therefore do little;
carelessness in fencing often exposes what little they sow to destruction; they are not at home to watch; in
order therefore to make up the deficiency, they go oftener to the woods. That new mode of life brings
along with it a new set of manners, which I cannot easily describe. These new manners being grafted on
the old stock, produce a strange sort of lawless profligacy, the impressions of which are indelible. The
manners of the Indian natives are respectable, compared with this European medley. Their wives and
children live in sloth and inactivity; and having no proper pursuits, you may judge what education the
latter receive. Their tender minds have nothing else to contemplate but the example of their parents; like
them they grow up a mongrel breed, half civilised, half savage, except nature stamps on them some
constitutional propensities. That rich, that voluptuous sentiment is gone that struck them so forcibly; the
possession of their freeholds no longer conveys to their minds the same pleasure and pride. To all these
reasons you must add, their lonely situation, and you cannot imagine what an effect on manners the great
distances they live from each other has! Consider one of the last settlements in its first view: of what is it
composed? Europeans who have not that sufficient share of knowledge they ought to have, in order to
prosper; people who have suddenly passed from oppression, dread of government, and fear of laws, into
the unlimited freedom of the woods. This sudden change must have a very great effect on most men, and
on that class particularly. Eating of wild meat, whatever you may think, tends to alter their temper: though
all the proof I can adduce, is, that I have seen it: and having no place of worship to resort to, what little
society this might afford is denied them. The Sunday meetings, exclusive of religious benefits, were the
only social bonds that might have inspired them with some degree of emulation in neatness. Is it then
surprising to see men thus situated, immersed in great and heavy labours, degenerate a little? It is rather a
wonder the effect is not more diffusive. The Moravians and the Quakers are the only instances in
exception to what I have advanced. The first never settle singly, it is a colony of the society which
emigrates; they carry with them their forms, worship, rules, and decency: the others never begin so hard,
they are always able to buy improvements, in which there is a great advantage, for by that time the
country is recovered from its first barbarity. Thus our bad people are those who are half cultivators and
half hunters; and the worst of them are those who have degenerated altogether into the hunting state. As
old ploughmen and new men of the woods, as Europeans and new made Indians, they contract the vices
of both; they adopt the moroseness and ferocity of a native, without his mildness, or even his industry at
home. If manners are not refined, at least they are rendered simple and inoffensive by tilling the earth; all
our wants are supplied by it, our time is divided between labour and rest, and leaves none for the
commission of great misdeeds. As hunters it is divided between the toil of the chase, the idleness of
repose, or the indulgence of inebriation. Hunting is but a licentious idle life, and if it does not always
pervert good dispositions; yet, when it is united with bad luck, it leads to want: want stimulates that
propensity to rapacity and injustice, too natural to needy men, which is the fatal gradation. After this
explanation of the effects which follow by living in the woods, shall we yet vainly flatter ourselves with
the hope of converting the Indians? We should rather begin with converting our back- settlers; and now if
I dare mention the name of religion, its sweet accents would be lost in the immensity of these woods. Men
thus placed are not fit either to receive or remember its mild instructions; they want temples and
ministers, but as soon as men cease to remain at home, and begin to lead an erratic life, let them be either
tawny or white, they cease to be its disciples.
Thus have I faintly and imperfectly endeavoured to trace our society from the sea to our woods! yet you
must not imagine that every person who moves back, acts upon the same principles, or falls into the same
degeneracy. Many families carry with them all their decency of conduct, purity of morals, and respect of
religion; but these are scarce, the power of example is sometimes irresistible. Even among these backsettlers, their depravity is greater or less, according to what nation or province they belong. Were I to
adduce proofs of this, I might be accused of partiality. If there happens to be some rich intervals, some
fertile bottoms, in those remote districts, the people will there prefer tilling the land to hunting, and will
attach themselves to it; but even on these fertile spots you may plainly perceive the inhabitants to acquire
a great degree of rusticity and selfishness.
It is in consequence of this straggling situation, and the astonishing power it has on manners, that the
back-settlers of both the Carolinas, Virginia, and many other parts, have been long a set of lawless people;
it has been even dangerous to travel among them. Government can do nothing in so extensive a country,
better it should wink at these irregularities, than that it should use means inconsistent with its usual
mildness. Time will efface those stains: in proportion as the great body of population approaches them
they will reform, and become polished and subordinate. Whatever has been said of the four New England
provinces, no such degeneracy of manners has ever tarnished their annals; their back-settlers have been
kept within the bounds of decency, and government, by means of wise laws, and by the influence of
religion. What a detestable idea such people must have given to the natives of the Europeans! They trade
with them, the worst of people are permitted to do that which none but persons of the best characters
should be employed in. They get drunk with them, and often defraud the Indians. Their avarice, removed
from the eyes of their superiors, knows no bounds; and aided by the little superiority of knowledge, these
traders deceive them, and even sometimes shed blood. Hence those shocking violations, those sudden
devastations which have so often stained our frontiers, when hundreds of innocent people have been
sacrificed for the crimes of a few. It was in consequence of such behaviour, that the Indians took the
hatchet against the Virginians in 1774. Thus are our first steps trod, thus are our first trees felled, in
general, by the most vicious of our people; and thus the path is opened for the arrival of a second and
better class, the true American freeholders; the most respectable set of people in this part of the world:
respectable for their industry, their happy independence, the great share of freedom they possess, the good
regulation of their families, and for extending the trade and the dominion of our mother country.
Europe contains hardly any other distinctions but lords and tenants; this fair country alone is settled by
freeholders, the possessors of the soil they cultivate, members of the government they obey, and the
framers of their own laws, by means of their representatives. This is a thought which you have taught me
to cherish; our difference from Europe, far from diminishing, rather adds to our usefulness and
consequence as men and subjects. Had our forefathers remained there, they would only have crowded it,
and perhaps prolonged those convulsions which had shook it so long. Every industrious European who
transports himself here, may be compared to a sprout growing at the foot of a great tree; it enjoys and
draws but a little portion of sap; wrench it from the parent roots, transplant it, and it will become a tree
bearing fruit also. Colonists are therefore entitled to the consideration due to the most useful subjects; a
hundred families barely existing in some parts of Scotland, will here in six years, cause an annual
exportation of 10,000 bushels of wheat: 100 bushels being but a common quantity for an industrious
family to sell, if they cultivate good land. It is here then that the idle may be employed, the useless
become useful, and the poor become rich; but by riches I do not mean gold and silver, we have but little
of those metals; I mean a better sort of wealth, cleared lands, cattle, good houses, good clothes, and an
increase of people to enjoy them.
There is no wonder that this country has so many charms, and presents to Europeans so many temptations
to remain in it. A traveller in Europe becomes a stranger as soon as he quits his own kingdom; but it is
otherwise here. We know, properly speaking, no strangers; this is every person's country; the variety of
our soils, situations, climates, governments, and produce, hath something which must please everybody.
No sooner does an European arrive, no matter of what condition, than his eyes are opened upon the fair
prospect; he hears his language spoke, he retraces many of his own country manners, he perpetually hears
the names of families and towns with which he is acquainted; he sees happiness and prosperity in all
places disseminated; he meets with hospitality, kindness, and plenty everywhere; he beholds hardly any
poor, he seldom hears of punishments and executions; and he wonders at the elegance of our towns, those
miracles of industry and freedom. He cannot admire enough our rural districts, our convenient roads,
good taverns, and our many accommodations; he involuntarily loves a country where everything is so
lovely. When in England, he was a mere Englishman; here he stands on a larger portion of the globe, not
less than its fourth part, and may see the productions of the north, in iron and naval stores; the provisions
of Ireland, the grain of Egypt, the indigo, the rice of China. He does not find, as in Europe, a crowded
society, where every place is over-stocked; he does not feel that perpetual collision of parties, that
difficulty of beginning, that contention which oversets so many. There is room for everybody in America;
has he any particular talent, or industry? he exerts it in order to procure a livelihood, and it succeeds. Is he
a merchant? the avenues of trade are infinite; is he eminent in any respect? he will be employed and
respected. Does he love a country life? pleasant farms present themselves; he may purchase what he
wants, and thereby become an American farmer. Is he a labourer, sober and industrious? he need not go
many miles, nor receive many informations before he will be hired, well fed at the table of his employer,
and paid four or five times more than he can get in Europe. Does he want uncultivated lands? thousands
of acres present themselves, which he may purchase cheap. Whatever be his talents or inclinations, if they
are moderate, he may satisfy them. I do not mean that every one who comes will grow rich in a little time;
no, but he may procure an easy, decent maintenance, by his industry. Instead of starving he will be fed,
instead of being idle he will have employment; and these are riches enough for such men as come over
here. The rich stay in Europe, it is only the middling and the poor that emigrate. Would you wish to travel
in independent idleness, from north to south, you will find easy access, and the most cheerful reception at
every house; society without ostentation, good cheer without pride, and every decent diversion which the
country affords, with little expense. It is no wonder that the European who has lived here a few years, is
desirous to remain; Europe with all its pomp, is not to be compared to this continent, for men of middle
stations, or labourers.
An European, when he first arrives, seems limited in his intentions, as well as in his views; but he very
suddenly alters his scale; two hundred miles formerly appeared a very great distance, it is now but a trifle;
he no sooner breathes our air than he forms schemes, and embarks in designs he never would have
thought of in his own country. There the plenitude of society confines many useful ideas, and often
extinguishes the most laudable schemes which here ripen into maturity. Thus Europeans become
But how is this accomplished in that crowd of low, indigent people, who flock here every year from all
parts of Europe? I will tell you; they no sooner arrive than they immediately feel the good effects of that
plenty of provisions we possess: they fare on our best food, and they are kindly entertained; their talents,
character, and peculiar industry are immediately inquired into; they find countrymen everywhere
disseminated, let them come from whatever part of Europe. Let me select one as an epitome of the rest; he
is hired, he goes to work, and works moderately; instead of being employed by a haughty person, he finds
himself with his equal, placed at the substantial table of the farmer, or else at an inferior one as good; his
wages are high, his bed is not like that bed of sorrow on which he used to lie: if he behaves with
propriety, and is faithful, he is caressed, and becomes as it were a member of the family. He begins to feel
the effects of a sort of resurrection; hitherto he had not lived, but simply vegetated; he now feels himself a
man, because he is treated as such; the laws of his own country had overlooked him in his insignificancy;
the laws of this cover him with their mantle. Judge what an alteration there must arise in the mind and
thoughts of this man; he begins to forget his former servitude and dependence, his heart involuntarily
swells and glows; this first swell inspires him with those new thoughts which constitute an American.
What love can he entertain for a country where his existence was a burthen to him; if he is a generous
good man, the love of this new adoptive parent will sink deep into his heart. He looks around, and sees
many a prosperous person, who but a few years before was as poor as himself. This encourages him
much, he begins to form some little scheme, the first, alas, he ever formed in his life. If he is wise he thus
spends two or three years, in which time he acquires knowledge, the use of tools, the modes of working
the lands, felling trees, etc. This prepares the foundation of a good name, the most useful acquisition he
can make. He is encouraged, he has gained friends; he is advised and directed, he feels bold, he purchases
some land; he gives all the money he has brought over, as well as what he has earned, and trusts to the
God of harvests for the discharge of the rest. His good name procures him credit. He is now possessed of
the deed, conveying to him and his posterity the fee simple and absolute property of two hundred acres of
land, situated on such a river. What an epocha in this man's life! He is become a freeholder, from perhaps
a German boor--he is now an American, a Pennsylvanian, an English subject. He is naturalised, his name
is enrolled with those of the other citizens of the province. Instead of being a vagrant, he has a place of
residence; he is called the inhabitant of such a county, or of such a district, and for the first time in his life
counts for something; for hitherto he has been a cypher. I only repeat what I have heard many say, and no
wonder their hearts should glow, and be agitated with a multitude of feelings, not easy to describe. From
nothing to start into being; from a servant to the rank of a master; from being the slave of some despotic
prince, to become a free man, invested with lands, to which every municipal blessing is annexed! What a
change indeed! It is in consequence of that change that he becomes an American. This great
metamorphosis has a double effect, it extinguishes all his European prejudices, he forgets that mechanism
of subordination, that servility of disposition which poverty had taught him; and sometimes he is apt to
forget too much, often passing from one extreme to the other. If he is a good man, he forms schemes of
future prosperity, he proposes to educate his children better than he has been educated himself; he thinks
of future modes of conduct, feels an ardour to labour he never felt before. Pride steps in and leads him to
everything that the laws do not forbid: he respects them; with a heart-felt gratitude he looks toward the
east, toward that insular government from whose wisdom all his new felicity is derived, and under whose
wings and protection he now lives. These reflections constitute him the good man and the good subject.
Ye poor Europeans, ye, who sweat, and work for the great-- ye, who are obliged to give so many sheaves
to the church, so many to your lords, so many to your government, and have hardly any left for
yourselves--ye, who are held in less estimation than favourite hunters or useless lap-dogs--ye, who only
breathe the air of nature, because it cannot be withheld from you; it is here that ye can conceive the
possibility of those feelings I have been describing; it is here the laws of naturalisation invite every one to
partake of our great labours and felicity, to till unrented, untaxed lands! Many, corrupted beyond the
power of amendment, have brought with them all their vices, and disregarding the advantages held to
them, have gone on in their former career of iniquity, until they have been overtaken and punished by our
laws. It is not every emigrant who succeeds; no, it is only the sober, the honest, and industrious: happy
those to whom this transition has served as a powerful spur to labour, to prosperity, and to the good
establishment of children, born in the days of their poverty; and who had no other portion to expect but
the rags of their parents, had it not been for their happy emigration. Others again, have been led astray by
this enchanting scene; their new pride, instead of leading them to the fields, has kept them in idleness; the
idea of possessing lands is all that satisfies them--though surrounded with fertility, they have mouldered
away their time in inactivity, misinformed husbandry, and ineffectual endeavours. How much wiser, in
general, the honest Germans than almost all other Europeans; they hire themselves to some of their
wealthy landsmen, and in that apprenticeship learn everything that is necessary. They attentively consider
the prosperous industry of others, which imprints in their minds a strong desire of possessing the same
advantages. This forcible idea never quits them, they launch forth, and by dint of sobriety, rigid
parsimony, and the most persevering industry, they commonly succeed. Their astonishment at their first
arrival from Germany is very great--it is to them a dream; the contrast must be powerful indeed; they
observe their countrymen flourishing in every place; they travel through whole counties where not a word
of English is spoken; and in the names and the language of the people, they retrace Germany. They have
been an useful acquisition to this continent, and to Pennsylvania in particular; to them it owes some share
of its prosperity: to their mechanical knowledge and patience it owes the finest mills in all America, the
best teams of horses, and many other advantages. The recollection of their former poverty and slavery
never quits them as long as they live.
The Scotch and the Irish might have lived in their own country perhaps as poor, but enjoying more civil
advantages, the effects of their new situation do not strike them so forcibly, nor has it so lasting an effect.
From whence the difference arises I know not, but out of twelve families of emigrants of each country,
generally seven Scotch will succeed, nine German, and four Irish. The Scotch are frugal and laborious,
but their wives cannot work so hard as German women, who on the contrary vie with their husbands, and
often share with them the most severe toils of the field, which they understand better. They have therefore
nothing to struggle against, but the common casualties of nature. The Irish do not prosper so well; they
love to drink and to quarrel; they are litigious, and soon take to the gun, which is the ruin of everything;
they seem beside to labour under a greater degree of ignorance in husbandry than the others; perhaps it is
that their industry had less scope, and was less exercised at home. I have heard many relate, how the land
was parcelled out in that kingdom; their ancient conquest has been a great detriment to them, by oversetting their landed property. The lands possessed by a few, are leased down ad infinitum, and the
occupiers often pay five guineas an acre. The poor are worse lodged there than anywhere else in Europe;
their potatoes, which are easily raised, are perhaps an inducement to laziness: their wages are too low, and
their whisky too cheap.
There is no tracing observations of this kind, without making at the same time very great allowances, as
there are everywhere to be found, a great many exceptions. The Irish themselves, from different parts of
that kingdom, are very different. It is difficult to account for this surprising locality, one would think on
so small an island an Irishman must be an Irishman: yet it is not so, they are different in their aptitude to,
and in their love of labour.
The Scotch on the contrary are all industrious and saving; they want nothing more than a field to exert
themselves in, and they are commonly sure of succeeding. The only difficulty they labour under is, that
technical American knowledge which requires some time to obtain; it is not easy for those who seldom
saw a tree, to conceive how it is to be felled, cut up, and split into rails and posts.
As I am fond of seeing and talking of prosperous families, I intend to finish this letter by relating to you
the history of an honest Scotch Hebridean, who came here in 1774, which will show you in epitome what
the Scotch can do, wherever they have room for the exertion of their industry. Whenever I hear of any
new settlement, I pay it a visit once or twice a year, on purpose to observe the different steps each settler
takes, the gradual improvements, the different tempers of each family, on which their prosperity in a great
nature depends; their different modifications of industry, their ingenuity, and contrivance; for being all
poor, their life requires sagacity and prudence. In the evening I love to hear them tell their stories, they
furnish me with new ideas; I sit still and listen to their ancient misfortunes, observing in many of them a
strong degree of gratitude to God, and the government. Many a well meant sermon have I preached to
some of them. When I found laziness and inattention to prevail, who could refrain from wishing well to
these new countrymen, after having undergone so many fatigues. Who could withhold good advice? What
a happy change it must be, to descend from the high, sterile, bleak lands of Scotland, where everything is
barren and cold, to rest on some fertile farms in these middle provinces! Such a transition must have
afforded the most pleasing satisfaction.
The following dialogue passed at an out-settlement, where I lately paid a visit:
Well, friend, how do you do now; I am come fifty odd miles on purpose to see you; how do you go on
with your new cutting and slashing? Very well, good Sir, we learn the use of the axe bravely, we shall
make it out; we have a belly full of victuals every day, our cows run about, and come home full of milk,
our hogs get fat of themselves in the woods: Oh, this is a good country! God bless the king, and William
Penn; we shall do very well by and by, if we keep our healths. Your loghouse looks neat and light, where
did you get these shingles? One of our neighbours is a New-England man, and he showed us how to split
them out of chestnut-trees. Now for a barn, but all in good time, here are fine trees to build with. Who is
to frame it, sure you don't understand that work yet? A countryman of ours who has been in America
these ten years, offers to wait for his money until the second crop is lodged in it. What did you give for
your land? Thirty-five shillings per acre, payable in seven years. How many acres have you got? An
hundred and fifty. That is enough to begin with; is not your land pretty hard to clear? Yes, Sir, hard
enough, but it would be harder still if it were ready cleared, for then we should have no timber, and I love
the woods much; the land is nothing without them. Have not you found out any bees yet? No, Sir; and if
we had we should not know what to do with them. I will tell you by and by. You are very kind. Farewell,
honest man, God prosper you; whenever you travel toward----, inquire for J.S. He will entertain you
kindly, provided you bring him good tidings from your family and farm. In this manner I often visit them,
and carefully examine their houses, their modes of ingenuity, their different ways; and make them all
relate all they know, and describe all they feel. These are scenes which I believe you would willingly
share with me. I well remember your philanthropic turn of mind. Is it not better to contemplate under
these humble roofs, the rudiments of future wealth and population, than to behold the accumulated
bundles of litigious papers in the office of a lawyer? To examine how the world is gradually settled, how
the howling swamp is converted into a pleasing meadow, the rough ridge into a fine field; and to hear the
cheerful whistling, the rural song, where there was no sound heard before, save the yell of the savage, the
screech of the owl or the hissing of the snake? Here an European, fatigued with luxury, riches, and
pleasures, may find a sweet relaxation in a series of interesting scenes, as affecting as they are new.
England, which now contains so many domes, so many castles, was once like this; a place woody and
marshy; its inhabitants, now the favourite nation for arts and commerce, were once painted like our
neighbours. The country will nourish in its turn, and the same observations will be made which I have just
delineated. Posterity will look back with avidity and pleasure, to trace, if possible, the era of this or that
particular settlement.
Pray, what is the reason that the Scots are in general more religious, more faithful, more honest, and
industrious than the Irish? I do not mean to insinuate national reflections, God forbid! It ill becomes any
man, and much less an American; but as I know men are nothing of themselves, and that they owe all
their different modifications either to government or other local circumstances, there must be some
powerful causes which constitute this great national difference.
Agreeable to the account which several Scotchmen have given me of the north of Britain, of the Orkneys,
and the Hebride Islands, they seem, on many accounts, to be unfit for the habitation of men; they appear
to be calculated only for great sheep pastures. Who then can blame the inhabitants of these countries for
transporting themselves hither? This great continent must in time absorb the poorest part of Europe; and
this will happen in proportion as it becomes better known; and as war, taxation, oppression, and misery
increase there. The Hebrides appear to be fit only for the residence of malefactors, and it would be much
better to send felons there than either to Virginia or Maryland. What a strange compliment has our mother
country paid to two of the finest provinces in America! England has entertained in that respect very
mistaken ideas; what was intended as a punishment, is become the good fortune of several; many of those
who have been transported as felons, are now rich, and strangers to the stings of those wants that urged
them to violations of the law: they are become industrious, exemplary, and useful citizens. The English
government should purchase the most northern and barren of those islands; it should send over to us the
honest, primitive Hebrideans, settle them here on good lands, as a reward for their virtue and ancient
poverty; and replace them with a colony of her wicked sons. The severity of the climate, the inclemency
of the seasons, the sterility of the soil, the tempestuousness of the sea, would afflict and punish enough.
Could there be found a spot better adapted to retaliate the injury it had received by their crimes? Some of
those islands might be considered as the hell of Great Britain, where all evil spirits should be sent. Two
essential ends would be answered by this simple operation. The good people, by emigration, would be
rendered happier; the bad ones would be placed where they ought to be. In a few years the dread of being
sent to that wintry region would have a much stronger effect than that of transportation.--This is no place
of punishment; were I a poor hopeless, breadless Englishman, and not restrained by the power of shame, I
should be very thankful for the passage. It is of very little importance how, and in what manner an
indigent man arrives; for if he is but sober, honest, and industrious, he has nothing more to ask of heaven.
Let him go to work, he will have opportunities enough to earn a comfortable support, and even the means
of procuring some land; which ought to be the utmost wish of every person who has health and hands to
work. I knew a man who came to this country, in the literal sense of the expression, stark naked; I think
he was a Frenchman, and a sailor on board an English man-of- war. Being discontented, he had stripped
himself and swam ashore; where, finding clothes and friends, he settled afterwards at Maraneck, in the
county of Chester, in the province of New York: he married and left a good farm to each of his sons. I
knew another person who was but twelve years old when he was taken on the frontiers of Canada, by the
Indians; at his arrival at Albany he was purchased by a gentleman, who generously bound him apprentice
to a tailor. He lived to the age of ninety, and left behind him a fine estate and a numerous family, all well
settled; many of them I am acquainted with.--Where is then the industrious European who ought to
After a foreigner from any part of Europe is arrived, and become a citizen; let him devoutly listen to the
voice of our great parent, which says to him, "Welcome to my shores, distressed European; bless the hour
in which thou didst see my verdant fields, my fair navigable rivers, and my green mountains!--If thou wilt
work, I have bread for thee; if thou wilt be honest, sober, and industrious, I have greater rewards to confer
on thee--ease and independence. I will give thee fields to feed and clothe thee; a comfortable fireside to
sit by, and tell thy children by what means thou hast prospered; and a decent bed to repose on. I shall
endow thee beside with the immunities of a freeman. If thou wilt carefully educate thy children, teach
them gratitude to God, and reverence to that government, that philanthropic government, which has
collected here so many men and made them happy. I will also provide for thy progeny; and to every good
man this ought to be the most holy, the most powerful, the most earnest wish he can possibly form, as
well as the most consolatory prospect when he dies. Go thou and work and till; thou shalt prosper,
provided thou be just, grateful, and industrious."
Selection from “Common Sense” – Thomas Paine
Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between
them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants,
and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our
affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other
creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its
worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A
GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is
heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the
badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were
the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but
that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the
protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises
him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of
government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us,
with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose a small number
of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest; they will then
represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be
their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto; the strength of one man is so unequal to
his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and
relief of another, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united would be able to raise a tolerable
dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labour out the common period of life without
accomplishing any thing; when he had felled his timber he could not remove it, nor erect it after it was
removed; hunger in the mean time would urge him to quit his work, and every different want would call
him a different way. Disease, nay even misfortune, would be death; for, though neither might be mortal,
yet either would disable him from living, and reduce him to a state in which he might rather be said to
perish than to die.
Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society, the
reciprocal blessings of which would supersede, and render the obligations of law and government
unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other; but as nothing but Heaven is impregnable to
vice, it will unavoidably happen that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration,
which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to
each other: and this remissness will point out the necessity of establishing some form of government to
supply the defect of moral virtue.
The Crisis – Thomas Paine (December 23, 1776)
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis,
shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man
and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the
harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is
dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods;
and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain,
with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but "to bind us in
all cases whatsoever" and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as
slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.
Whether the independence of the continent was declared too soon, or delayed too long, I will not now
enter into as an argument; my own simple opinion is, that had it been eight months earlier, it would have
been much better. We did not make a proper use of last winter, neither could we, while we were in a
dependent state. However, the fault, if it were one, was all our own, we have none to blame but ourselves.
But no great deal is lost yet. All that Howe has been doing for this month past, is rather a ravage than a
conquest, which the spirit of the Jerseys, a year ago, would have quickly repulsed, and which time and a
little resolution will soon recover.
I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that
God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish,
who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method
which wisdom could invent. Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that He has
relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils; and as I do not, I cannot
see on what grounds the king of Britain can look up to heaven for help against us: a common murderer, a
highwayman, or a house-breaker, has as good a pretence as he.
Patrick Henry, Speech to the Virginia Convention, St. John's Church, Richmond, Virginia
March 23, 1775.
Mr. President: No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very
worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in
different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if,
entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments
freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful
moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or
slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only
in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and
our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should
consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of
heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a
painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise
men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those
who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal
salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to
know the worst, and to provide for it.
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of
judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the
conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have
been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has
been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be
betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work
of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be
called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and
subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array,
if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it?
Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and
armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over
to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what
have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years.
Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of
which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What
terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive
ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on.
We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the
throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament.
Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our
supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the
throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no
longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable
privileges for which we have been so long contending²if we mean not basely to abandon the noble
struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon
until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An
appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!
They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be
stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a
British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction?
Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the
delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if
we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions
of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are
invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles
alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to
fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.
Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the
contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be
heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable²and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace²but there is no peace. The war
is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding
arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish?
What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and
slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty
or give me death!
“The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street, Boston, on March 5th 1770 by a party of the
29th regiment.” Paul Revere (1770)
Declaration of Independence
[Adopted in Congress 4 July 1776]
The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands
which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and
equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions
of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is
the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on
such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their
safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be
changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more
disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which
they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same
object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw
off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient
sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former
systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries
and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To
prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless
suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has
utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those
people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them
and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the
depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his
He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his
invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the
legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their
exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without,
and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws
for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and
raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing
judiciary powers.
He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount
and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people,
and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.
He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and
unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit
on the inhabitants of these states:
For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing taxes on us without our consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:
For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:
For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an
arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit
instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:
For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the
forms of our governments:
For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate
for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our
He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death,
desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely
paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their
country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants
of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished
destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated
petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every
act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of
attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of
the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and
magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these
usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been
deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which
denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled,
appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by
the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united
colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all
allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great
Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power
to levey war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things
which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on
the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our
sacred honor.
by Washington Irving
A pleasing land of drowsy head it was,
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
Forever flushing round a summer sky.
In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad
expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they
always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies
a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and
properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the
good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about
the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for
the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little
valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A
small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of
a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform
I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel-shooting was in a grove of tall walnut-trees
that shades one side of the valley. I had wandered into it at noontime, when all nature is peculiarly quiet,
and was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the Sabbath stillness around and was prolonged
and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the
world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more
promising than this little valley.
From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants
from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY
HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country.
A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say
that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others,
that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was
discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some
witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual
reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and
frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with
local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the
valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it
the favorite scene of her gambols.
The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of
all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be
the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless
battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in
the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at
times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain
of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the
floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the
churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing
speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being
belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.
Such is the general purport of this legendary superstition, which has furnished materials for many a wild
story in that region of shadows; and the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of the
Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
It is remarkable that the visionary propensity I have mentioned is not confined to the native inhabitants of
the valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by every one who resides there for a time. However wide awake
they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the
witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.
I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud, for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here
and there embosomed in the great State of New York, that population, manners, and customs remain
fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in
other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved. They are like those little nooks of still
water, which border a rapid stream, where we may see the straw and bubble riding quietly at anchor, or
slowly revolving in their mimic harbor, undisturbed by the rush of the passing current. Though many
years have elapsed since I trod the drowsy shades of Sleepy Hollow, yet I question whether I should not
still find the same trees and the same families vegetating in its sheltered bosom.
In this by-place of nature there abode, in a remote period of American history, that is to say, some thirty
years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane, who sojourned, or, as he expressed it,
"tarried," in Sleepy Hollow, for the purpose of instructing the children of the vicinity. He was a native of
Connecticut, a State which supplies the Union with pioneers for the mind as well as for the forest, and
sends forth yearly its legions of frontier woodmen and country schoolmasters. The cognomen of Crane
was not inapplicable to his person. He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms
and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his
whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green
glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to
tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his
clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine
descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.
His schoolhouse was a low building of one large room, rudely constructed of logs; the windows partly
glazed, and partly patched with leaves of old copybooks. It was most ingeniously secured at vacant hours,
by a withe twisted in the handle of the door, and stakes set against the window shutters; so that though a
thief might get in with perfect ease, he would find some embarrassment in getting out,—an idea most
probably borrowed by the architect, Yost Van Houten, from the mystery of an eelpot. The schoolhouse
stood in a rather lonely but pleasant situation, just at the foot of a woody hill, with a brook running close
by, and a formidable birch-tree growing at one end of it. From hence the low murmur of his pupils'
voices, conning over their lessons, might be heard in a drowsy summer's day, like the hum of a beehive;
interrupted now and then by the authoritative voice of the master, in the tone of menace or command, or,
peradventure, by the appalling sound of the birch, as he urged some tardy loiterer along the flowery path
of knowledge. Truth to say, he was a conscientious man, and ever bore in mind the golden maxim, "Spare
the rod and spoil the child." Ichabod Crane's scholars certainly were not spoiled.
I would not have it imagined, however, that he was one of those cruel potentates of the school who joy in
the smart of their subjects; on the contrary, he administered justice with discrimination rather than
severity; taking the burden off the backs of the weak, and laying it on those of the strong. Your mere puny
stripling, that winced at the least flourish of the rod, was passed by with indulgence; but the claims of
justice were satisfied by inflicting a double portion on some little tough wrong-headed, broad-skirted
Dutch urchin, who sulked and swelled and grew dogged and sullen beneath the birch. All this he called
"doing his duty by their parents;" and he never inflicted a chastisement without following it by the
assurance, so consolatory to the smarting urchin, that "he would remember it and thank him for it the
longest day he had to live."
When school hours were over, he was even the companion and playmate of the larger boys; and on
holiday afternoons would convoy some of the smaller ones home, who happened to have pretty sisters, or
good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard. Indeed, it behooved him to keep on
good terms with his pupils. The revenue arising from his school was small, and would have been scarcely
sufficient to furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder, and, though lank, had the dilating
powers of an anaconda; but to help out his maintenance, he was, according to country custom in those
parts, boarded and lodged at the houses of the farmers whose children he instructed. With these he lived
successively a week at a time, thus going the rounds of the neighborhood, with all his worldly effects tied
up in a cotton handkerchief.
That all this might not be too onerous on the purses of his rustic patrons, who are apt to consider the costs
of schooling a grievous burden, and schoolmasters as mere drones, he had various ways of rendering
himself both useful and agreeable. He assisted the farmers occasionally in the lighter labors of their farms,
helped to make hay, mended the fences, took the horses to water, drove the cows from pasture, and cut
wood for the winter fire. He laid aside, too, all the dominant dignity and absolute sway with which he
lorded it in his little empire, the school, and became wonderfully gentle and ingratiating. He found favor
in the eyes of the mothers by petting the children, particularly the youngest; and like the lion bold, which
whilom so magnanimously the lamb did hold, he would sit with a child on one knee, and rock a cradle
with his foot for whole hours together.
In addition to his other vocations, he was the singing-master of the neighborhood, and picked up many
bright shillings by instructing the young folks in psalmody. It was a matter of no little vanity to him on
Sundays, to take his station in front of the church gallery, with a band of chosen singers; where, in his
own mind, he completely carried away the palm from the parson. Certain it is, his voice resounded far
above all the rest of the congregation; and there are peculiar quavers still to be heard in that church, and
which may even be heard half a mile off, quite to the opposite side of the millpond, on a still Sunday
morning, which are said to be legitimately descended from the nose of Ichabod Crane. Thus, by divers
little makeshifts, in that ingenious way which is commonly denominated "by hook and by crook," the
worthy pedagogue got on tolerably enough, and was thought, by all who understood nothing of the labor
of headwork, to have a wonderfully easy life of it.
The schoolmaster is generally a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood;
being considered a kind of idle, gentlemanlike personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to
the rough country swains, and, indeed, inferior in learning only to the parson. His appearance, therefore,
is apt to occasion some little stir at the tea-table of a farmhouse, and the addition of a supernumerary dish
of cakes or sweetmeats, or, peradventure, the parade of a silver teapot. Our man of letters, therefore, was
peculiarly happy in the smiles of all the country damsels. How he would figure among them in the
churchyard, between services on Sundays; gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overran the
surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones; or sauntering, with a
whole bevy of them, along the banks of the adjacent millpond; while the more bashful country bumpkins
hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address.
From his half-itinerant life, also, he was a kind of travelling gazette, carrying the whole budget of local
gossip from house to house, so that his appearance was always greeted with satisfaction. He was,
moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite
through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather's "History of New England Witchcraft," in which, by
the way, he most firmly and potently believed.
He was, in fact, an odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity. His appetite for the marvellous,
and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence
in this spell-bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow. It was often his
delight, after his school was dismissed in the afternoon, to stretch himself on the rich bed of clover
bordering the little brook that whimpered by his schoolhouse, and there con over old Mather's direful
tales, until the gathering dusk of evening made the printed page a mere mist before his eyes. Then, as he
wended his way by swamp and stream and awful woodland, to the farmhouse where he happened to be
quartered, every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination,—the moan of
the whip-poor-will from the hillside, the boding cry of the tree toad, that harbinger of storm, the dreary
hooting of the screech owl, or the sudden rustling in the thicket of birds frightened from their roost. The
fireflies, too, which sparkled most vividly in the darkest places, now and then startled him, as one of
uncommon brightness would stream across his path; and if, by chance, a huge blockhead of a beetle came
winging his blundering flight against him, the poor varlet was ready to give up the ghost, with the idea
that he was struck with a witch's token. His only resource on such occasions, either to drown thought or
drive away evil spirits, was to sing psalm tunes and the good people of Sleepy Hollow, as they sat by their
doors of an evening, were often filled with awe at hearing his nasal melody, "in linked sweetness long
drawn out," floating from the distant hill, or along the dusky road.
Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as
they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to
their marvellous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges,
and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or Galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as
they sometimes called him. He would delight them equally by his anecdotes of witchcraft, and of the
direful omens and portentous sights and sounds in the air, which prevailed in the earlier times of
Connecticut; and would frighten them woefully with speculations upon comets and shooting stars; and
with the alarming fact that the world did absolutely turn round, and that they were half the time topsyturvy!
But if there was a pleasure in all this, while snugly cuddling in the chimney corner of a chamber that was
all of a ruddy glow from the crackling wood fire, and where, of course, no spectre dared to show its face,
it was dearly purchased by the terrors of his subsequent walk homewards. What fearful shapes and
shadows beset his path, amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night! With what wistful look did he
eye every trembling ray of light streaming across the waste fields from some distant window! How often
was he appalled by some shrub covered with snow, which, like a sheeted spectre, beset his very path!
How often did he shrink with curdling awe at the sound of his own steps on the frosty crust beneath his
feet; and dread to look over his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being tramping close
behind him! And how often was he thrown into complete dismay by some rushing blast, howling among
the trees, in the idea that it was the Galloping Hessian on one of his nightly scourings!
All these, however, were mere terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness; and
though he had seen many spectres in his time, and been more than once beset by Satan in divers shapes, in
his lonely perambulations, yet daylight put an end to all these evils; and he would have passed a pleasant
life of it, in despite of the Devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes
more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that
was—a woman.
Among the musical disciples who assembled, one evening in each week, to receive his instructions in
psalmody, was Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a
blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her
father's peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. She was
withal a little of a coquette, as might be perceived even in her dress, which was a mixture of ancient and
modern fashions, as most suited to set off her charms. She wore the ornaments of pure yellow gold, which
her great-great-grandmother had brought over from Saardam; the tempting stomacher of the olden time,
and withal a provokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country round.
Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart towards the sex; and it is not to be wondered at that so
tempting a morsel soon found favor in his eyes, more especially after he had visited her in her paternal
mansion. Old Baltus Van Tassel was a perfect picture of a thriving, contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He
seldom, it is true, sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the boundaries of his own farm; but within
those everything was snug, happy and well-conditioned. He was satisfied with his wealth, but not proud
of it; and piqued himself upon the hearty abundance, rather than the style in which he lived. His
stronghold was situated on the banks of the Hudson, in one of those green, sheltered, fertile nooks in
which the Dutch farmers are so fond of nestling. A great elm tree spread its broad branches over it, at the
foot of which bubbled up a spring of the softest and sweetest water, in a little well formed of a barrel; and
then stole sparkling away through the grass, to a neighboring brook, that babbled along among alders and
dwarf willows. Hard by the farmhouse was a vast barn, that might have served for a church; every
window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm; the flail was busily
resounding within it from morning to night; swallows and martins skimmed twittering about the eaves;
and rows of pigeons, some with one eye turned up, as if watching the weather, some with their heads
under their wings or buried in their bosoms, and others swelling, and cooing, and bowing about their
dames, were enjoying the sunshine on the roof. Sleek unwieldy porkers were grunting in the repose and
abundance of their pens, from whence sallied forth, now and then, troops of sucking pigs, as if to snuff
the air. A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining pond, convoying whole fleets of
ducks; regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farmyard, and Guinea fowls fretting about it, like
ill-tempered housewives, with their peevish, discontented cry. Before the barn door strutted the gallant
cock, that pattern of a husband, a warrior and a fine gentleman, clapping his burnished wings and crowing
in the pride and gladness of his heart,—sometimes tearing up the earth with his feet, and then generously
calling his ever-hungry family of wives and children to enjoy the rich morsel which he had discovered.
The pedagogue's mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In
his devouring mind's eye, he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his
belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in
with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in
dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce. In the porkers he saw carved
out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up,
with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of savory sausages; and even bright
chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back, in a side dish, with uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter
which his chivalrous spirit disdained to ask while living.
As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow
lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchards burdened with
ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who
was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might be readily
turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the
wilderness. Nay, his busy fancy already realized his hopes, and presented to him the blooming Katrina,
with a whole family of children, mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery, with
pots and kettles dangling beneath; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels,
setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee,—or the Lord knows where!
When he entered the house, the conquest of his heart was complete. It was one of those spacious
farmhouses, with high-ridged but lowly sloping roofs, built in the style handed down from the first Dutch
settlers; the low projecting eaves forming a piazza along the front, capable of being closed up in bad
weather. Under this were hung flails, harness, various utensils of husbandry, and nets for fishing in the
neighboring river. Benches were built along the sides for summer use; and a great spinning-wheel at one
end, and a churn at the other, showed the various uses to which this important porch might be devoted.
From this piazza the wondering Ichabod entered the hall, which formed the centre of the mansion, and the
place of usual residence. Here rows of resplendent pewter, ranged on a long dresser, dazzled his eyes. In
one corner stood a huge bag of wool, ready to be spun; in another, a quantity of linsey-woolsey just from
the loom; ears of Indian corn, and strings of dried apples and peaches, hung in gay festoons along the
walls, mingled with the gaud of red peppers; and a door left ajar gave him a peep into the best parlor,
where the claw-footed chairs and dark mahogany tables shone like mirrors; andirons, with their
accompanying shovel and tongs, glistened from their covert of asparagus tops; mock-oranges and conchshells decorated the mantelpiece; strings of various-colored birds eggs were suspended above it; a great
ostrich egg was hung from the centre of the room, and a corner cupboard, knowingly left open, displayed
immense treasures of old silver and well-mended china.
From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an
end, and his only study was how to gain the affections of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel. In this
enterprise, however, he had more real difficulties than generally fell to the lot of a knight-errant of yore,
who seldom had anything but giants, enchanters, fiery dragons, and such like easily conquered
adversaries, to contend with and had to make his way merely through gates of iron and brass, and walls of
adamant to the castle keep, where the lady of his heart was confined; all which he achieved as easily as a
man would carve his way to the centre of a Christmas pie; and then the lady gave him her hand as a
matter of course. Ichabod, on the contrary, had to win his way to the heart of a country coquette, beset
with a labyrinth of whims and caprices, which were forever presenting new difficulties and impediments;
and he had to encounter a host of fearful adversaries of real flesh and blood, the numerous rustic admirers,
who beset every portal to her heart, keeping a watchful and angry eye upon each other, but ready to fly
out in the common cause against any new competitor.
Among these, the most formidable was a burly, roaring, roystering blade, of the name of Abraham, or,
according to the Dutch abbreviation, Brom Van Brunt, the hero of the country round, which rang with his
feats of strength and hardihood. He was broad-shouldered and double-jointed, with short curly black hair,
and a bluff but not unpleasant countenance, having a mingled air of fun and arrogance. From his
Herculean frame and great powers of limb he had received the nickname of BROM BONES, by which he
was universally known. He was famed for great knowledge and skill in horsemanship, being as dexterous
on horseback as a Tartar. He was foremost at all races and cock fights; and, with the ascendancy which
bodily strength always acquires in rustic life, was the umpire in all disputes, setting his hat on one side,
and giving his decisions with an air and tone that admitted of no gainsay or appeal. He was always ready
for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his
overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at bottom. He had three or four
boon companions, who regarded him as their model, and at the head of whom he scoured the country,
attending every scene of feud or merriment for miles round. In cold weather he was distinguished by a fur
cap, surmounted with a flaunting fox's tail; and when the folks at a country gathering descried this wellknown crest at a distance, whisking about among a squad of hard riders, they always stood by for a squall.
Sometimes his crew would be heard dashing along past the farmhouses at midnight, with whoop and
halloo, like a troop of Don Cossacks; and the old dames, startled out of their sleep, would listen for a
moment till the hurry-scurry had clattered by, and then exclaim, "Ay, there goes Brom Bones and his
gang!" The neighbors looked upon him with a mixture of awe, admiration, and good-will; and, when any
madcap prank or rustic brawl occurred in the vicinity, always shook their heads, and warranted Brom
Bones was at the bottom of it.
This rantipole hero had for some time singled out the blooming Katrina for the object of his uncouth
gallantries, and though his amorous toyings were something like the gentle caresses and endearments of a
bear, yet it was whispered that she did not altogether discourage his hopes. Certain it is, his advances
were signals for rival candidates to retire, who felt no inclination to cross a lion in his amours; insomuch,
that when his horse was seen tied to Van Tassel's paling, on a Sunday night, a sure sign that his master
was courting, or, as it is termed, "sparking," within, all other suitors passed by in despair, and carried the
war into other quarters.
Such was the formidable rival with whom Ichabod Crane had to contend, and, considering all things, a
stouter man than he would have shrunk from the competition, and a wiser man would have despaired. He
had, however, a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his nature; he was in form and spirit like
a supple-jack—yielding, but tough; though he bent, he never broke; and though he bowed beneath the
slightest pressure, yet, the moment it was away—jerk!—he was as erect, and carried his head as high as
To have taken the field openly against his rival would have been madness; for he was not a man to be
thwarted in his amours, any more than that stormy lover, Achilles. Ichabod, therefore, made his advances
in a quiet and gently insinuating manner. Under cover of his character of singing-master, he made
frequent visits at the farmhouse; not that he had anything to apprehend from the meddlesome interference
of parents, which is so often a stumbling-block in the path of lovers. Balt Van Tassel was an easy
indulgent soul; he loved his daughter better even than his pipe, and, like a reasonable man and an
excellent father, let her have her way in everything. His notable little wife, too, had enough to do to attend
to her housekeeping and manage her poultry; for, as she sagely observed, ducks and geese are foolish
things, and must be looked after, but girls can take care of themselves. Thus, while the busy dame bustled
about the house, or plied her spinning-wheel at one end of the piazza, honest Balt would sit smoking his
evening pipe at the other, watching the achievements of a little wooden warrior, who, armed with a sword
in each hand, was most valiantly fighting the wind on the pinnacle of the barn. In the mean time, Ichabod
would carry on his suit with the daughter by the side of the spring under the great elm, or sauntering along
in the twilight, that hour so favorable to the lover's eloquence.
I profess not to know how women's hearts are wooed and won. To me they have always been matters of
riddle and admiration. Some seem to have but one vulnerable point, or door of access; while others have a
thousand avenues, and may be captured in a thousand different ways. It is a great triumph of skill to gain
the former, but a still greater proof of generalship to maintain possession of the latter, for man must battle
for his fortress at every door and window. He who wins a thousand common hearts is therefore entitled to
some renown; but he who keeps undisputed sway over the heart of a coquette is indeed a hero. Certain it
is, this was not the case with the redoubtable Brom Bones; and from the moment Ichabod Crane made his
advances, the interests of the former evidently declined: his horse was no longer seen tied to the palings
on Sunday nights, and a deadly feud gradually arose between him and the preceptor of Sleepy Hollow.
Brom, who had a degree of rough chivalry in his nature, would fain have carried matters to open warfare
and have settled their pretensions to the lady, according to the mode of those most concise and simple
reasoners, the knights-errant of yore,—by single combat; but Ichabod was too conscious of the superior
might of his adversary to enter the lists against him; he had overheard a boast of Bones, that he would
"double the schoolmaster up, and lay him on a shelf of his own schoolhouse;" and he was too wary to
give him an opportunity. There was something extremely provoking in this obstinately pacific system; it
left Brom no alternative but to draw upon the funds of rustic waggery in his disposition, and to play off
boorish practical jokes upon his rival. Ichabod became the object of whimsical persecution to Bones and
his gang of rough riders. They harried his hitherto peaceful domains; smoked out his singing school by
stopping up the chimney; broke into the schoolhouse at night, in spite of its formidable fastenings of
withe and window stakes, and turned everything topsy-turvy, so that the poor schoolmaster began to think
all the witches in the country held their meetings there. But what was still more annoying, Brom took all
opportunities of turning him into ridicule in presence of his mistress, and had a scoundrel dog whom he
taught to whine in the most ludicrous manner, and introduced as a rival of Ichabod's, to instruct her in
In this way matters went on for some time, without producing any material effect on the relative situations
of the contending powers. On a fine autumnal afternoon, Ichabod, in pensive mood, sat enthroned on the
lofty stool from whence he usually watched all the concerns of his little literary realm. In his hand he
swayed a ferule, that sceptre of despotic power; the birch of justice reposed on three nails behind the
throne, a constant terror to evil doers, while on the desk before him might be seen sundry contraband
articles and prohibited weapons, detected upon the persons of idle urchins, such as half-munched apples,
popguns, whirligigs, fly-cages, and whole legions of rampant little paper gamecocks. Apparently there
had been some appalling act of justice recently inflicted, for his scholars were all busily intent upon their
books, or slyly whispering behind them with one eye kept upon the master; and a kind of buzzing stillness
reigned throughout the schoolroom. It was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a negro in tow-cloth
jacket and trowsers, a round-crowned fragment of a hat, like the cap of Mercury, and mounted on the
back of a ragged, wild, half-broken colt, which he managed with a rope by way of halter. He came
clattering up to the school door with an invitation to Ichabod to attend a merry-making or "quilting
frolic," to be held that evening at Mynheer Van Tassel's; and having delivered his message with that air of
importance, and effort at fine language, which a negro is apt to display on petty embassies of the kind, he
dashed over the brook, and was seen scampering away up the hollow, full of the importance and hurry of
his mission.
All was now bustle and hubbub in the late quiet schoolroom. The scholars were hurried through their
lessons without stopping at trifles; those who were nimble skipped over half with impunity, and those
who were tardy had a smart application now and then in the rear, to quicken their speed or help them over
a tall word. Books were flung aside without being put away on the shelves, inkstands were overturned,
benches thrown down, and the whole school was turned loose an hour before the usual time, bursting
forth like a legion of young imps, yelping and racketing about the green in joy at their early emancipation.
The gallant Ichabod now spent at least an extra half hour at his toilet, brushing and furbishing up his best,
and indeed only suit of rusty black, and arranging his locks by a bit of broken looking-glass that hung up
in the schoolhouse. That he might make his appearance before his mistress in the true style of a cavalier,
he borrowed a horse from the farmer with whom he was domiciliated, a choleric old Dutchman of the
name of Hans Van Ripper, and, thus gallantly mounted, issued forth like a knight-errant in quest of
adventures. But it is meet I should, in the true spirit of romantic story, give some account of the looks and
equipments of my hero and his steed. The animal he bestrode was a broken-down plow-horse, that had
outlived almost everything but its viciousness. He was gaunt and shagged, with a ewe neck, and a head
like a hammer; his rusty mane and tail were tangled and knotted with burs; one eye had lost its pupil, and
was glaring and spectral, but the other had the gleam of a genuine devil in it. Still he must have had fire
and mettle in his day, if we may judge from the name he bore of Gunpowder. He had, in fact, been a
favorite steed of his master's, the choleric Van Ripper, who was a furious rider, and had infused, very
probably, some of his own spirit into the animal; for, old and broken-down as he looked, there was more
of the lurking devil in him than in any young filly in the country.
Ichabod was a suitable figure for such a steed. He rode with short stirrups, which brought his knees nearly
up to the pommel of the saddle; his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers'; he carried his whip
perpendicularly in his hand, like a sceptre, and as his horse jogged on, the motion of his arms was not
unlike the flapping of a pair of wings. A small wool hat rested on the top of his nose, for so his scanty
strip of forehead might be called, and the skirts of his black coat fluttered out almost to the horses tail.
Such was the appearance of Ichabod and his steed as they shambled out of the gate of Hans Van Ripper,
and it was altogether such an apparition as is seldom to be met with in broad daylight.
It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and
golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober
brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes
of orange, purple, and scarlet. Streaming files of wild ducks began to make their appearance high in the
air; the bark of the squirrel might be heard from the groves of beech and hickory-nuts, and the pensive
whistle of the quail at intervals from the neighboring stubble field.
The small birds were taking their farewell banquets. In the fullness of their revelry, they fluttered,
chirping and frolicking from bush to bush, and tree to tree, capricious from the very profusion and variety
around them. There was the honest cock robin, the favorite game of stripling sportsmen, with its loud
querulous note; and the twittering blackbirds flying in sable clouds; and the golden-winged woodpecker
with his crimson crest, his broad black gorget, and splendid plumage; and the cedar bird, with its red-tipt
wings and yellow-tipt tail and its little monteiro cap of feathers; and the blue jay, that noisy coxcomb, in
his gay light blue coat and white underclothes, screaming and chattering, nodding and bobbing and
bowing, and pretending to be on good terms with every songster of the grove.
As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance,
ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast store of apples; some
hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others
heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden
ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty-pudding; and the
yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample
prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields breathing the
odor of the beehive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well
buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.
Thus feeding his mind with many sweet thoughts and "sugared suppositions," he journeyed along the
sides of a range of hills which look out upon some of the goodliest scenes of the mighty Hudson. The sun
gradually wheeled his broad disk down in the west. The wide bosom of the Tappan Zee lay motionless
and glassy, excepting that here and there a gentle undulation waved and prolonged the blue shadow of the
distant mountain. A few amber clouds floated in the sky, without a breath of air to move them. The
horizon was of a fine golden tint, changing gradually into a pure apple green, and from that into the deep
blue of the mid-heaven. A slanting ray lingered on the woody crests of the precipices that overhung some
parts of the river, giving greater depth to the dark gray and purple of their rocky sides. A sloop was
loitering in the distance, dropping slowly down with the tide, her sail hanging uselessly against the mast;
and as the reflection of the sky gleamed along the still water, it seemed as if the vessel was suspended in
the air.
It was toward evening that Ichabod arrived at the castle of the Heer Van Tassel, which he found thronged
with the pride and flower of the adjacent country. Old farmers, a spare leathern-faced race, in homespun
coats and breeches, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles. Their brisk, withered
little dames, in close-crimped caps, long-waisted short gowns, homespun petticoats, with scissors and
pincushions, and gay calico pockets hanging on the outside. Buxom lasses, almost as antiquated as their
mothers, excepting where a straw hat, a fine ribbon, or perhaps a white frock, gave symptoms of city
innovation. The sons, in short square-skirted coats, with rows of stupendous brass buttons, and their hair
generally queued in the fashion of the times, especially if they could procure an eel-skin for the purpose,
it being esteemed throughout the country as a potent nourisher and strengthener of the hair.
Brom Bones, however, was the hero of the scene, having come to the gathering on his favorite steed
Daredevil, a creature, like himself, full of mettle and mischief, and which no one but himself could
manage. He was, in fact, noted for preferring vicious animals, given to all kinds of tricks which kept the
rider in constant risk of his neck, for he held a tractable, well-broken horse as unworthy of a lad of spirit.
Fain would I pause to dwell upon the world of charms that burst upon the enraptured gaze of my hero, as
he entered the state parlor of Van Tassel's mansion. Not those of the bevy of buxom lasses, with their
luxurious display of red and white; but the ample charms of a genuine Dutch country tea-table, in the
sumptuous time of autumn. Such heaped up platters of cakes of various and almost indescribable kinds,
known only to experienced Dutch housewives! There was the doughty doughnut, the tender oly koek, and
the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole
family of cakes. And then there were apple pies, and peach pies, and pumpkin pies; besides slices of ham
and smoked beef; and moreover delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and
quinces; not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, all
mingled higgledy-piggledy, pretty much as I have enumerated them, with the motherly teapot sending up
its clouds of vapor from the midst—Heaven bless the mark! I want breath and time to discuss this banquet
as it deserves, and am too eager to get on with my story. Happily, Ichabod Crane was not in so great a
hurry as his historian, but did ample justice to every dainty.
He was a kind and thankful creature, whose heart dilated in proportion as his skin was filled with good
cheer, and whose spirits rose with eating, as some men's do with drink. He could not help, too, rolling his
large eyes round him as he ate, and chuckling with the possibility that he might one day be lord of all this
scene of almost unimaginable luxury and splendor. Then, he thought, how soon he'd turn his back upon
the old schoolhouse; snap his fingers in the face of Hans Van Ripper, and every other niggardly patron,
and kick any itinerant pedagogue out of doors that should dare to call him comrade!
Old Baltus Van Tassel moved about among his guests with a face dilated with content and good humor,
round and jolly as the harvest moon. His hospitable attentions were brief, but expressive, being confined
to a shake of the hand, a slap on the shoulder, a loud laugh, and a pressing invitation to "fall to, and help
And now the sound of the music from the common room, or hall, summoned to the dance. The musician
was an old gray-headed negro, who had been the itinerant orchestra of the neighborhood for more than
half a century. His instrument was as old and battered as himself. The greater part of the time he scraped
on two or three strings, accompanying every movement of the bow with a motion of the head; bowing
almost to the ground, and stamping with his foot whenever a fresh couple were to start.
Ichabod prided himself upon his dancing as much as upon his vocal powers. Not a limb, not a fibre about
him was idle; and to have seen his loosely hung frame in full motion, and clattering about the room, you
would have thought St. Vitus himself, that blessed patron of the dance, was figuring before you in person.
He was the admiration of all the negroes; who, having gathered, of all ages and sizes, from the farm and
the neighborhood, stood forming a pyramid of shining black faces at every door and window, gazing with
delight at the scene, rolling their white eyeballs, and showing grinning rows of ivory from ear to ear. How
could the flogger of urchins be otherwise than animated and joyous? The lady of his heart was his partner
in the dance, and smiling graciously in reply to all his amorous oglings; while Brom Bones, sorely smitten
with love and jealousy, sat brooding by himself in one corner.
When the dance was at an end, Ichabod was attracted to a knot of the sager folks, who, with Old Van
Tassel, sat smoking at one end of the piazza, gossiping over former times, and drawing out long stories
about the war.
This neighborhood, at the time of which I am speaking, was one of those highly favored places which
abound with chronicle and great men. The British and American line had run near it during the war; it
had, therefore, been the scene of marauding and infested with refugees, cowboys, and all kinds of border
chivalry. Just sufficient time had elapsed to enable each storyteller to dress up his tale with a little
becoming fiction, and, in the indistinctness of his recollection, to make himself the hero of every exploit.
There was the story of Doffue Martling, a large blue-bearded Dutchman, who had nearly taken a British
frigate with an old iron nine-pounder from a mud breastwork, only that his gun burst at the sixth
discharge. And there was an old gentleman who shall be nameless, being too rich a mynheer to be lightly
mentioned, who, in the battle of White Plains, being an excellent master of defence, parried a musket-ball
with a small sword, insomuch that he absolutely felt it whiz round the blade, and glance off at the hilt; in
proof of which he was ready at any time to show the sword, with the hilt a little bent. There were several
more that had been equally great in the field, not one of whom but was persuaded that he had a
considerable hand in bringing the war to a happy termination.
But all these were nothing to the tales of ghosts and apparitions that succeeded. The neighborhood is rich
in legendary treasures of the kind. Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long-settled
retreats; but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our
country places. Besides, there is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages, for they have
scarcely had time to finish their first nap and turn themselves in their graves, before their surviving
friends have travelled away from the neighborhood; so that when they turn out at night to walk their
rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of
ghosts except in our long-established Dutch communities.
The immediate cause, however, of the prevalence of supernatural stories in these parts, was doubtless
owing to the vicinity of Sleepy Hollow. There was a contagion in the very air that blew from that haunted
region; it breathed forth an atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land. Several of the Sleepy
Hollow people were present at Van Tassel's, and, as usual, were doling out their wild and wonderful
legends. Many dismal tales were told about funeral trains, and mourning cries and wailings heard and
seen about the great tree where the unfortunate Major André was taken, and which stood in the
neighborhood. Some mention was made also of the woman in white, that haunted the dark glen at Raven
Rock, and was often heard to shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow.
The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless
Horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it was said, tethered his
horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard.
The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits.
It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent,
whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement.
A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water, bordered by high trees, between which, peeps
may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams
seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace. On one side of
the church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of
fallen trees. Over a deep black part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden
bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a
gloom about it, even in the daytime; but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the
favorite haunts of the Headless Horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered. The
tale was told of old Brouwer, a most heretical disbeliever in ghosts, how he met the Horseman returning
from his foray into Sleepy Hollow, and was obliged to get up behind him; how they galloped over bush
and brake, over hill and swamp, until they reached the bridge; when the Horseman suddenly turned into a
skeleton, threw old Brouwer into the brook, and sprang away over the tree-tops with a clap of thunder.
This story was immediately matched by a thrice marvellous adventure of Brom Bones, who made light of
the Galloping Hessian as an arrant jockey. He affirmed that on returning one night from the neighboring
village of Sing Sing, he had been overtaken by this midnight trooper; that he had offered to race with him
for a bowl of punch, and should have won it too, for Daredevil beat the goblin horse all hollow, but just as
they came to the church bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire.
All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which men talk in the dark, the countenances of the
listeners only now and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank deep in the mind of
Ichabod. He repaid them in kind with large extracts from his invaluable author, Cotton Mather, and added
many marvellous events that had taken place in his native State of Connecticut, and fearful sights which
he had seen in his nightly walks about Sleepy Hollow.
The revel now gradually broke up. The old farmers gathered together their families in their wagons, and
were heard for some time rattling along the hollow roads, and over the distant hills. Some of the damsels
mounted on pillions behind their favorite swains, and their light-hearted laughter, mingling with the
clatter of hoofs, echoed along the silent woodlands, sounding fainter and fainter, until they gradually died
away,—and the late scene of noise and frolic was all silent and deserted. Ichabod only lingered behind,
according to the custom of country lovers, to have a tête-à-tête with the heiress; fully convinced that he
was now on the high road to success. What passed at this interview I will not pretend to say, for in fact I
do not know. Something, however, I fear me, must have gone wrong, for he certainly sallied forth, after
no very great interval, with an air quite desolate and chapfallen. Oh, these women! these women! Could
that girl have been playing off any of her coquettish tricks? Was her encouragement of the poor
pedagogue all a mere sham to secure her conquest of his rival? Heaven only knows, not I! Let it suffice to
say, Ichabod stole forth with the air of one who had been sacking a henroost, rather than a fair lady's
heart. Without looking to the right or left to notice the scene of rural wealth, on which he had so often
gloated, he went straight to the stable, and with several hearty cuffs and kicks roused his steed most
uncourteously from the comfortable quarters in which he was soundly sleeping, dreaming of mountains of
corn and oats, and whole valleys of timothy and clover.
It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod, heavy-hearted and crestfallen, pursued his travels
homewards, along the sides of the lofty hills which rise above Tarry Town, and which he had traversed so
cheerily in the afternoon. The hour was as dismal as himself. Far below him the Tappan Zee spread its
dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the tall mast of a sloop, riding quietly at anchor
under the land. In the dead hush of midnight, he could even hear the barking of the watchdog from the
opposite shore of the Hudson; but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of his distance from
this faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn crowing of a cock, accidentally
awakened, would sound far, far off, from some farmhouse away among the hills—but it was like a
dreaming sound in his ear. No signs of life occurred near him, but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a
cricket, or perhaps the guttural twang of a bullfrog from a neighboring marsh, as if sleeping
uncomfortably and turning suddenly in his bed.
All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon now came crowding upon his
recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving
clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal. He was, moreover,
approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid. In the centre of
the road stood an enormous tulip-tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the
neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form
trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air. It was connected
with the tragical story of the unfortunate André, who had been taken prisoner hard by; and was
universally known by the name of Major André's tree. The common people regarded it with a mixture of
respect and superstition, partly out of sympathy for the fate of its ill-starred namesake, and partly from the
tales of strange sights, and doleful lamentations, told concerning it.
As Ichabod approached this fearful tree, he began to whistle; he thought his whistle was answered; it was
but a blast sweeping sharply through the dry branches. As he approached a little nearer, he thought he saw
something white, hanging in the midst of the tree: he paused and ceased whistling but, on looking more
narrowly, perceived that it was a place where the tree had been scathed by lightning, and the white wood
laid bare. Suddenly he heard a groan—his teeth chattered, and his knees smote against the saddle: it was
but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another, as they were swayed about by the breeze. He passed the
tree in safety, but new perils lay before him.
About two hundred yards from the tree, a small brook crossed the road, and ran into a marshy and thicklywooded glen, known by the name of Wiley's Swamp. A few rough logs, laid side by side, served for a
bridge over this stream. On that side of the road where the brook entered the wood, a group of oaks and
chestnuts, matted thick with wild grape-vines, threw a cavernous gloom over it. To pass this bridge was
the severest trial. It was at this identical spot that the unfortunate André was captured, and under the
covert of those chestnuts and vines were the sturdy yeomen concealed who surprised him. This has ever
since been considered a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the schoolboy who has to pass it
alone after dark.
As he approached the stream, his heart began to thump; he summoned up, however, all his resolution,
gave his horse half a score of kicks in the ribs, and attempted to dash briskly across the bridge; but instead
of starting forward, the perverse old animal made a lateral movement, and ran broadside against the fence.
Ichabod, whose fears increased with the delay, jerked the reins on the other side, and kicked lustily with
the contrary foot: it was all in vain; his steed started, it is true, but it was only to plunge to the opposite
side of the road into a thicket of brambles and alder bushes. The schoolmaster now bestowed both whip
and heel upon the starveling ribs of old Gunpowder, who dashed forward, snuffling and snorting, but
came to a stand just by the bridge, with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his
head. Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In
the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen and
towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring
upon the traveller.
The hair of the affrighted pedagogue rose upon his head with terror. What was to be done? To turn and fly
was now too late; and besides, what chance was there of escaping ghost or goblin, if such it was, which
could ride upon the wings of the wind? Summoning up, therefore, a show of courage, he demanded in
stammering accents, "Who are you?" He received no reply. He repeated his demand in a still more
agitated voice. Still there was no answer. Once more he cudgelled the sides of the inflexible Gunpowder,
and, shutting his eyes, broke forth with involuntary fervor into a psalm tune. Just then the shadowy object
of alarm put itself in motion, and with a scramble and a bound stood at once in the middle of the road.
Though the night was dark and dismal, yet the form of the unknown might now in some degree be
ascertained. He appeared to be a horseman of large dimensions, and mounted on a black horse of
powerful frame. He made no offer of molestation or sociability, but kept aloof on one side of the road,
jogging along on the blind side of old Gunpowder, who had now got over his fright and waywardness.
Ichabod, who had no relish for this strange midnight companion, and bethought himself of the adventure
of Brom Bones with the Galloping Hessian, now quickened his steed in hopes of leaving him behind. The
stranger, however, quickened his horse to an equal pace. Ichabod pulled up, and fell into a walk, thinking
to lag behind,—the other did the same. His heart began to sink within him; he endeavored to resume his
psalm tune, but his parched tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and he could not utter a stave. There
was something in the moody and dogged silence of this pertinacious companion that was mysterious and
appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for. On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of
his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was
horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!—but his horror was still more increased on observing
that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his
saddle! His terror rose to desperation; he rained a shower of kicks and blows upon Gunpowder, hoping by
a sudden movement to give his companion the slip; but the spectre started full jump with him. Away,
then, they dashed through thick and thin; stones flying and sparks flashing at every bound. Ichabod's
flimsy garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long lank body away over his horse's head, in the
eagerness of his flight.
They had now reached the road which turns off to Sleepy Hollow; but Gunpowder, who seemed
possessed with a demon, instead of keeping up it, made an opposite turn, and plunged headlong downhill
to the left. This road leads through a sandy hollow shaded by trees for about a quarter of a mile, where it
crosses the bridge famous in goblin story; and just beyond swells the green knoll on which stands the
whitewashed church.
As yet the panic of the steed had given his unskilful rider an apparent advantage in the chase, but just as
he had got half way through the hollow, the girths of the saddle gave way, and he felt it slipping from
under him. He seized it by the pommel, and endeavored to hold it firm, but in vain; and had just time to
save himself by clasping old Gunpowder round the neck, when the saddle fell to the earth, and he heard it
trampled under foot by his pursuer. For a moment the terror of Hans Van Ripper's wrath passed across his
mind,—for it was his Sunday saddle; but this was no time for petty fears; the goblin was hard on his
haunches; and (unskilful rider that he was!) he had much ado to maintain his seat; sometimes slipping on
one side, sometimes on another, and sometimes jolted on the high ridge of his horse's backbone, with a
violence that he verily feared would cleave him asunder.
An opening in the trees now cheered him with the hopes that the church bridge was at hand. The wavering
reflection of a silver star in the bosom of the brook told him that he was not mistaken. He saw the walls of
the church dimly glaring under the trees beyond. He recollected the place where Brom Bones's ghostly
competitor had disappeared. "If I can but reach that bridge," thought Ichabod, "I am safe." Just then he
heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath.
Another convulsive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the
resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer
should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his
stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile,
but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash,—he was tumbled headlong into the
dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind.
The next morning the old horse was found without his saddle, and with the bridle under his feet, soberly
cropping the grass at his master's gate. Ichabod did not make his appearance at breakfast; dinner-hour
came, but no Ichabod. The boys assembled at the schoolhouse, and strolled idly about the banks of the
brook; but no schoolmaster. Hans Van Ripper now began to feel some uneasiness about the fate of poor
Ichabod, and his saddle. An inquiry was set on foot, and after diligent investigation they came upon his
traces. In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of
horses' hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond
which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of
the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.
The brook was searched, but the body of the schoolmaster was not to be discovered. Hans Van Ripper as
executor of his estate, examined the bundle which contained all his worldly effects. They consisted of two
shirts and a half; two stocks for the neck; a pair or two of worsted stockings; an old pair of corduroy
small-clothes; a rusty razor; a book of psalm tunes full of dog's-ears; and a broken pitch-pipe. As to the
books and furniture of the schoolhouse, they belonged to the community, excepting Cotton Mather's
"History of Witchcraft," a "New England Almanac," and a book of dreams and fortune-telling; in which
last was a sheet of foolscap much scribbled and blotted in several fruitless attempts to make a copy of
verses in honor of the heiress of Van Tassel. These magic books and the poetic scrawl were forthwith
consigned to the flames by Hans Van Ripper; who, from that time forward, determined to send his
children no more to school, observing that he never knew any good come of this same reading and
writing. Whatever money the schoolmaster possessed, and he had received his quarter's pay but a day or
two before, he must have had about his person at the time of his disappearance.
The mysterious event caused much speculation at the church on the following Sunday. Knots of gazers
and gossips were collected in the churchyard, at the bridge, and at the spot where the hat and pumpkin
had been found. The stories of Brouwer, of Bones, and a whole budget of others were called to mind; and
when they had diligently considered them all, and compared them with the symptoms of the present case,
they shook their heads, and came to the conclusion that Ichabod had been carried off by the Galloping
Hessian. As he was a bachelor, and in nobody's debt, nobody troubled his head any more about him; the
school was removed to a different quarter of the hollow, and another pedagogue reigned in his stead.
It is true, an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after, and from whom
this account of the ghostly adventure was received, brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was
still alive; that he had left the neighborhood partly through fear of the goblin and Hans Van Ripper, and
partly in mortification at having been suddenly dismissed by the heiress; that he had changed his quarters
to a distant part of the country; had kept school and studied law at the same time; had been admitted to the
bar; turned politician; electioneered; written for the newspapers; and finally had been made a justice of
the Ten Pound Court. Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival's disappearance conducted the
blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story
of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led
some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.
The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that
Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the
neighborhood round the winter evening fire. The bridge became more than ever an object of superstitious
awe; and that may be the reason why the road has been altered of late years, so as to approach the church
by the border of the millpond. The schoolhouse being deserted soon fell to decay, and was reported to be
haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue and the plowboy, loitering homeward of a still
summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the
tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow.
The preceding tale is given almost in the precise words in which I heard it related at a Corporation
meeting at the ancient city of Manhattoes, at which were present many of its sagest and most illustrious
burghers. The narrator was a pleasant, shabby, gentlemanly old fellow, in pepper-and-salt clothes, with a
sadly humourous face, and one whom I strongly suspected of being poor--he made such efforts to be
entertaining. When his story was concluded, there was much laughter and approbation, particularly from
two or three deputy aldermen, who had been asleep the greater part of the time. There was, however, one
tall, dry-looking old gentleman, with beetling eyebrows, who maintained a grave and rather severe face
throughout, now and then folding his arms, inclining his head, and looking down upon the floor, as if
turning a doubt over in his mind. He was one of your wary men, who never laugh but upon good grounds-when they have reason and law on their side. When the mirth of the rest of the company had subsided,
and silence was restored, he leaned one arm on the elbow of his chair, and sticking the other akimbo,
demanded, with a slight, but exceedingly sage motion of the head, and contraction of the brow, what was
the moral of the story, and what it went to prove?
The story-teller, who was just putting a glass of wine to his lips, as a refreshment after his toils, paused
for a moment, looked at his inquirer with an air of infinite deference, and, lowering the glass slowly to the
table, observed that the story was intended most logically to prove-"That there is no situation in life but has its advantages and pleasures--provided we will but take a joke as
we find it:
"That, therefore, he that runs races with goblin troopers is likely to have rough riding of it.
"Ergo, for a country schoolmaster to be refused the hand of a Dutch heiress is a certain step to high
preferment in the state."
The cautious old gentleman knit his brows tenfold closer after this explanation, being sorely puzzled by
the ratiocination of the syllogism, while, methought, the one in pepper-and-salt eyed him with something
of a triumphant leer. At length he observed that all this was very well, but still he thought the story a little
on the extravagant--there were one or two points on which he had his doubts.
"Faith, sir," replied the story-teller, "as to that matter, I don't believe one-half of it myself." D. K.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Its Origins
John K. Davis 10/12/2009
Washington Irving’s Halloween Ghost Story of the Headless Horseman
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been a part of American folklore since its first publication in 1820.
However, its roots are German, English and Scottish.
Washington Irving (1783-1859) was an author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat. Born in a
prominent New York City merchant family, he became interested in writing at an early age and in 1809
wrote his first major book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the
Dutch Dynasty, a satire on the city and contemporary politics.
A decade later, while residing in England, Irving sent to his brother in New York a series of essays and
short stories, many of them humorous or satirical. Published over a period of two years as The Sketch
Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman, the collection included Irving’s two most well known stories, “Rip
Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,“ the latter featuring the headless horseman.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Ichabod Crane, a Connecticut schoolteacher, arrives in Sleepy Hollow in 1790 and is immediately
attracted to the supernatural tales told by the area’s Dutch housewives, particularly the tale of a headless
horseman. According to the story, he is a Hessian cavalryman who was decapitated during a battle in the
American Revolution. Each night he rides out searching for his lost head.
Crane also spends his time pursuing a young woman, Katrina Van Tassel, the "plump," 18 year-old
daughter and sole child of a wealthy farmer. This infuriates a rival for Katrina’s hand, “Brom Bones" Van
Brunt, a handsome but rather rowdy and brutish man who subjects Crane to ridicule.
One Autumn night after attending a party at the Van Tassel home, Crane encounters the headless
horseman near a bridge and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. A pursuit through the countryside follows
during which the spectral horseman hurls his “head” at Crane. The next day the schoolteacher is missing,
leaving behind a riderless horse, a trampled saddle, Crane’s hat, and a smashed pumpkin.
Irving leaves it to the reader to decide if the horseman was an actual specter or Van Brunt in disguise.
Washington Irving and the Early Origins of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
When a yellow fever epidemic hit Manhattan in 1798, Irving’s family sent him to live in Tarrytown, 25
miles to the north of New York, for an extended period of time. It was while there that he became familiar
with the nearby area of Sleepy Hollow and its quaint Dutch customs and local ghost stories. Irving loved
the area so much that it became his permanent home in 1835, except for four years that he served as
Minister to Spain.
His early stay in the Sleepy Hollow region produced the setting for Irving’s story, but it was German,
English and Scottish writers who provided the gist of the story.
Later Influences on the Story
Shortly after taking residence in England in 1815, Irving met and became friends with the writer and folklorist Sir Walter Scott. It was Scott who encouraged his friend to read German folklore, particularly
the writings of Johann Karl August Musäus (1735-1787), who had written a series of “headless
horseman” tales. Musaus’s stories carried plot devices similar to those in Irving’s story such as an isolated
bridge and a gourd.
Irving was probably also influenced by the German poet Gottfried Burger and his work “Der Wilde
Jager.” This poem of ghostly hunters had been translated and adapted by Scott, himself, as “The Wild
Huntsmen” and it is likely that the American writer was familiar with both versions.
A third influence was most likely a long narrative poem called “Tam O’Shanter" written by the Scottish
poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). In this humorous story O’Shanter stays too long in a pub on a strange and
haunted night. On his ride home, he is chased by a group of witches and warlocks and is only saved after
crossing a bridge since witches and warlocks cannot cross running water.
The Legacy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
This ghost story still retains its popularity nearly 200 years after its creation. The story has been the basis
of stage plays, television presentations, movies, and even an opera.
The three most noted movies are: a 1922 silent feature, The Headless Horseman, starring humorist Will
Rogers; as part of the Walt Disney 1949 animated feature, Ichabod and Mr. Toad; and, Tim Burton’s
1999 Sleepy Hollow (available on DVD), starring Johnny Depp. In the last version, Crane (Depp) is a
New York policeman sent to investigate a series of decapitation murders. The movie has generally been
liked by audiences, but not by all critics.
Digital Still of Mr. Ichabod Crane from the Disney Film "The adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" a
film released October 5, 1949
from Self Reliance – Ralph Waldo Emerson
To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,-that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time
becomes the outmost,--and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.
Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is
that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man
should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than
the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is
his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain
alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for US than this. They teach us to
abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole Cry of
voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what
we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that
imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide
universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on
that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and
none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one
face, one character, one fact makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the
memory is not without preéstablishcd harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it
might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea
which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be
faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay
when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise shall
give hint no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no
muse befriends; no invention, no hope.
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for
your the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and
confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely
trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And
we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and
invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and
benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.1
What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behavior of children, babes, and even
brutes! That divided and rebel mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed the
strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have not. Their mind being whole, their eye is as yet
unconquered, and when we look in their faces, we are disconcerted. Infancy conforms to nobody; all
conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it.
So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it
enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think the youth has
no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear
and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful or bold, then, he will know
how to make us seniors very unnecessary.
The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught
to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlor what the pit 2 is in the
playhouse; independent; irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he
tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary ways of boys, as good, bad, interesting,
silly, eloquent. troublesome. He numbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an
independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were,
clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with éclat, he is a
committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter
into his account. There is no Lethe 3 for this. Ah, that he could pass again into his neutrality! Who can
thus avoid all pledges, and having observed, observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased,
unbribable, unaffrighted innocence, must always be formidable. He would utter opinions on all passing
affairs, which being seen to be not private, but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of men, and
put them in fear.
These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the
world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a
joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder,
to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is
its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not he
hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it he goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the
integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I
remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont
to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the
sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested,--"But these impulses may be
from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child,
I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but
names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only
wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition as if everything were
titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to
large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more
than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. If malice and vanity
wear the coat of philanthropy shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition,
and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes4 why should I not say to him, "Go love thy infant;
love thy wood-chopper; be good-natured and modest: have that grace; and never varnish your hard,
uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is
spite at home." Rough and graceless would he such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation
of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it,-- else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be
preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and
mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. 5 I would write on the lintels of the door-post,
Whim. 6 I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.
Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then again, do not tell me, as a good
man did today, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou
foolish philanthropists that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent I give to such men as do not belong to
me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought
and sold; for them I will go to prisons if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education
at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots;
and the thousandfold Relief Societies;--though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the
dollar, it is a wicked dollar, which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.
Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and his virtues.
Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine
in expiation of daily nonappearance on parade. Their works arc done as an apology or extenuation of their
living in the world,--as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish
to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a
lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be
sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse
this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or
forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have
intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or
the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.
What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and
in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder,
because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is
easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great
man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
----------------------------------(1) Reference to Milton's Paradise Lost, Book I. line 453.
(2) Cheap seats below the stage.
(3) In the Greek underworld of Hades, a river of forgetfulness.
(4) Slavery was abolished in British territories, including the West Indies, in 1833.
(5) See Matthew 10:34-37.
(6) In some Middle Eastern countries a mark on the door frame identified the owner.
Walden – Henry David Thoreau (1854)
When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there,
which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for
winter, but was merely a defence against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of
rough, weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night. The upright white hewn
studs and freshly planed door and windowcasings gave it a clean and airy look, especially in the morning,
when its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by noon some sweet gum would exude
from them. To my imagination it retained throughout the day more or less of this auroral character,
reminding me of a certain house on a mountain which I had visited a year before. This was an airy and
unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. The
winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the
broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the poem of
creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it. Olympus is but the outside of the earth
Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those parts of the universe and to those eras in
history which had most attracted me. Where I lived was as far off as many a region viewed nightly by
astronomers. We are wont to imagine rare and delectable places in some remote and more celestial corner
of the system, behind the constellation of Cassiopeia's Chair, far from noise and disturbance. I discovered
that my house actually had its site in such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the
universe. If it were worth the while to settle in those parts near to the Pleiades or the Hyades, to
Aldebaran or Altair, then I was really there, or at an equal remoteness from the life which I had left
behind, dwindled and twinkling with as fine a ray to my nearest neighbor, and to be seen only in
moonless nights by him. Such was that part of creation where I had squatted;
"There was a shepherd that did live, And held his thoughts as high As were the mounts whereon his
flocks Did hourly feed him by."
What should we think of the shepherd's life if his flocks always wandered to higher pastures than his
Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence,
with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and
bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did. They say that
characters were engraven on the bathing tub of King Tching-thang to this effect: "Renew thyself
completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again." I can understand that. Morning brings
back the heroic ages. I was as much affected by the faint burn of a mosquito making its invisible and
unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sailing with door and windows
open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame. It was Homer's requiem; itself an Iliad and
Odyssey in the air, singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was something cosmical about it; a
standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world. The morning,
which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in
us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.
Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius,
but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and
aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a
fragrance filling the air- to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and
prove itself to be good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day contains an
earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a
descending and darkening way. After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul of man, or its organs
rather, are reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries again what noble life it can make. All memorable
events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, "All
intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and art, and the faire stand most memorable of the actions
of men, date from such an hour. All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit
their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a
perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when
I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men
give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators.
If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are
awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual
exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never
yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite
expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging
fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to
be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is
far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which
morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to
make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we
refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how
this might be done.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if
I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not
wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite
necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as
to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and
reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine
meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and
be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange
uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is
the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."
Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like
pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its
occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has
hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the
rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a
thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the
midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousandand-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and
not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.
Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred
dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of
petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is
bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so- called internal improvements, which, by the
way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with
furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation
and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid
economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men
think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and
ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like
baboons or like men, is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days
and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And
if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our
business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think
what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The
rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are
sound sleepers, I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over; so that, if some
have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon. And when they run
over a man that is walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in the wrong position, and wake him up,
they suddenly stop the cars, and make a hue and cry about it, as if this were an exception. I am glad to
know that it takes a gang of men for every five miles to keep the sleepers down and level in their beds as
it is, for this is a sign that they may sometime get up again.
Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are
hungry. Men say that a stitchin time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine
tomorrow. As for work, we haven't any of any consequence. We have the Saint Vitus' dance, and cannot
possibly keep our heads still. If I should only give a few pulls at the parish bell-rope, as for a fire, that is,
without setting the bell, there is hardly a man on his farm in the outskirts of Concord, notwithstanding
that press of engagements which was his excuse so many times this morning, nor a boy, nor a woman, I
might almost say, but would forsake all and follow that sound, not mainly to save property from the
flames, but, if we will confess the truth, much more to see it burn, since burn it must, and we, be it
known, did not set it on fire- or to see it put out, and have a hand in it, if that is done as handsomely; yes,
even if it were the parish church itself. Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner, but when he
wakes he holds up his head and asks, "What's the news?" as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels.
Some give directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose; and then, to pay for it,
they tell what they have dreamed. After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast…
I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several
more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily
and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not
lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is
Eve or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen
into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet
of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the
Highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a
cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could
best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his
dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success
unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary;
new, universal, and more liberal laws will beg into establish themselves around and within him;
or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live
with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the
universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor
weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where
they should be. Now put the foundations under them…
Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man
does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let
him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he
should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the
condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can
substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality. Shall we with pains erect a heaven of
blue glass over ourselves, though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at the true ethereal
heaven far above, as if the former were not?...
However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so
bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in
paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious
hours, even in a poor-house. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as
brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do
not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a
palace. The town's poor seem tome often to live the most independent lives of any. Maybe they
are simply great enough to receive without misgiving. Most think that they are above being
supported by the town; but it oftener happens that they are not above supporting themselves by
dishonest means, which should be more disreputable. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like
sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old;
return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God
will see that you do not want society. If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a
spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me. The
philosopher said:"From an army of three divisions one can take away its general, and put it in
disorder; from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannot take away his thought." Do not
seek so anxiously to be developed, to subject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is
all dissipation. Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. The shadows of poverty and
meanness gather around us, "and lo! Creation widens to our view." We are often reminded that if
there were bestowed on us the wealth of Croesus, our aims must still be the same, and our means
essentially the same. Moreover, if you are restricted in your range by poverty, if you cannot buy
books and newspapers, for instance, you are but confined to the most significant and vital
experiences; you are compelled to deal with the material which yields the most sugar and the
most starch. It is life near the bone where it is sweetest. You are defended from being a trifler.
No man loses ever on a lower level by magnanimity on a higher. Superfluous wealth can buy
superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul…
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and
wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away
hungry from the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as the ices. I thought that there
was no need of ice to freeze them. They talked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the
vintage; but I thought of an older, a newer, and purer wine, of a more glorious vintage, which
they had not got, and could not buy. The style, the house and grounds and "entertainment" pass
for nothing with me. I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a
man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow
tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on him…
There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dullness…
The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known
it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all
our muskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell. I see far inland the banks which the
stream anciently washed, before science began to record its freshets. Everyone has heard the
story which has gone the rounds of New England, of a strong and beautiful bug which came out
of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood, which had stood in a farmer's kitchen for sixty
years, first in Connecticut, and afterward in Massachusetts- from an egg deposited in the living
tree many years earlier still, as appeared by counting the annual layers beyond it; which was
heard gnawing out for several weeks, hatched perchance by the heat of an urn. Who does not feel
his faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by hearing of this? Who knows what
beautiful and winged life, whose egg has been buried for ages under many concentric layers of
woodenness in the dead dry life of society, deposited at first in the alburnum of the green and
living tree, which has been gradually converted into the semblance of its well-seasoned tombheard perchance gnawing out now for years by the astonished family of man, as they sat round
the festive board- may unexpectedly come forth from amidst society's most trivial and handselled furniture, to enjoy its perfect summer life at last!
I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but such is the character of that morrow
which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness
to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a
morning star.
Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau
Part One:
I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — "That government is best which governs least";(1) and I should like
to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I
believe, — "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that
will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most
governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have
been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at
last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing
government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute
their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the
present Mexican war,(2) the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as
their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.
[2] This American government — what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit
itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force
of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people
themselves. But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery
or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Governments show thus
how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is
excellent, we must all allow. Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the
alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It
does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished;
and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way. For
government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has
been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it. Trade and commerce, if they
were not made of India rubber,(3) would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are
continually putting in their way; and, if one were to judge these men wholly by the effects of their actions,
and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve to be classed and punished with those mischievous
persons who put obstructions on the railroads.
[3] But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men,(4) I
ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what
kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.
[4] After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are
permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor
because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government
in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can
there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? —
in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the
citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every
man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to
cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to
assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience;
but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit
more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of
injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers,
colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys,(5) and all, marching in admirable order over hill
and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it
very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a
damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they?
Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?
Visit the Navy Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as
it can make a man with its black arts — a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out
alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments, though
it may be
"Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O'er the grave where our hero we buried."(6)
[5] The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They
are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus,(7) etc. In most cases there is no
free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with
wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as
well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of
worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as
most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their
heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without
intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve
the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly
treated as enemies by it. A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be "clay," and
"stop a hole to keep the wind away,"(8) but leave that office to his dust at least: —
"I am too high-born to be propertied,
To be a secondary at control,
Or useful serving-man and instrument
To any sovereign state throughout the world."(9)
[6] He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who
gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.
[7] How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer, that he
cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization
as my government which is the slave's government also.
[8] All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the
government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is
not the case now. But such was the case, they think, in the Revolution of '75.(10) If one were to tell me
that this was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is
most probable that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their
friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to
make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are
organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population
of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly
overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for
honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country
so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army.(11)
[9] Paley, a common authority with many on moral questions, in his chapter on the "Duty of
Submission to Civil Government," resolves all civil obligation into expediency; and he proceeds to say
that "so long as the interest of the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the established government
cannot be resisted or changed without public inconveniency, it is the will of God that the established
government be obeyed, and no longer" — "This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular
case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side,
and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other."(12) Of this, he says, every man shall
judge for himself. But Paley appears never to have contemplated those cases to which the rule of
expediency does not apply, in which a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what it may.
If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to him though I drown
myself.This, according to Paley, would be inconvenient. But he that would save his life, in such a case,
shall lose it.(13) This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them
their existence as a people.
[10] In their practice, nations agree with Paley; but does any one think that Massachusetts does exactly
what is right at the present crisis?
"A drab of state, a cloth-o'-silver slut,
To have her train borne up, and her soul trail in the dirt."(14)
Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at
the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and
agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost
what it may. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, co-operate with, and do the
bidding of those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless. We are accustomed to say,
that the mass of men are unprepared; but improvement is slow, because the few are not materially wiser
or better than the many. It is not so important that many should be as good as you, as that there be some
absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump.(15) There are thousands who are in
opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who,
esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets,
and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the
question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after
dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot
to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and
with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to
regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it
goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man; but it is
easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.
[11] All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a
playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character
of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that
that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds
that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly
your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it
to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.
When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent
to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the
only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.
[12] I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore,(16) or elsewhere, for the selection of a candidate for
the Presidency, made up chiefly of editors, and men who are politicians by profession; but I think, what is
it to any independent, intelligent, and respectable man what decision they may come to? Shall we not
have the advantage of his wisdom and honesty, nevertheless? Can we not count upon some independent
votes? Are there not many individuals in the country who do not attend conventions? But no: I find that
the respectable man, so called, has immediately drifted from his position, and despairs of his country,
when his country has more reason to despair of him. He forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus
selected as the only available one, thus proving that he is himself available for any purposes of the
demagogue. His vote is of no more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who
may have been bought. Oh for a man who is a man, and, as my neighbor says, has a bone in his back
which you cannot pass your hand through! Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned too
large. How many men are there to a square thousand miles in this country? Hardly one. Does not America
offer any inducement for men to settle here? The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow (17) — one
who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect
and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into the world, is to see that the
almshouses are in good repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund for
the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short ventures to live only by the aid of the
Mutual Insurance company, which has promised to bury him decently.
[13] It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the
most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least,
to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I
devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them
sitting upon another man's shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too.
See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, "I should like to have
them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico; — see if I would
go"; and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their
money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those
who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose
own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent to that degree that it
hired one to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus,
under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our
own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it
were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made.
1. Possible reference to "The best government is that which governs least," motto of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review,18371859, or "the less government we have, the better" - from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Politics", 1844, sometimes mistakenly attributed to Jefferson
2. U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848), abolitionists considered it an effort to extend slavery into former Mexican territory
3. Made from the latex of tropical plants, "India" because it came from the West Indies, and "rubber" from its early use as an eraser
4. Anarchists, many of whom came from Massachusetts
5. Boys who carry gunpowder for soldiers
6. Charles Wolfe (1791-1823) The Burial of Sir John Morre at Corunna
7. Group empowered to uphold the law, a sheriff's posse
8. Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist, from Hamlet
9. Shakespeare, from King John
10. The American Revolution began in Concord & Lexington in 1775
11. A reference to slavery in the U.S, and to the invasion of Mexico by the U.S.
12. William Paley (1743-1805) English theologian & philosopher, from Principals of Moral and Political Philosophy, 1785
13. "He that findeth his life shall lose it..." - Matthew 10:39
14. Cyril Tourneur (1575?-1626) The Revengers Tragadie
15."... a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" - 1 Corinthians 5:6
16. In 1848, Democratics nominated Lewis Case for U.S. president, later defeated by Zachary Talor
17. A member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization orginating in England in the mid-1700s.
Part Two:
[1] The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it. The slight
reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur. Those
who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and
support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to
reform. Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union,(1) to disregard the requisitions of the
President. Why do they not dissolve it themselves — the union between themselves and the State — and
refuse to pay their quota into its treasury? Do not they stand in the same relation to the State, that the State
does to the Union? And have not the same reasons prevented the State from resisting the Union, which
have prevented them from resisting the State?
[2] How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in
it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do
not rest satisfied with knowing that you are cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with
petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and
see that you are never cheated again. Action from principle — the perception and the performance of right
— changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything
which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual,
separating the diabolical in him from the divine.
[3] Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey
them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a
government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them.
They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the
government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to
anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist
before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do
better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus (2)
and Luther,(3) and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
[4] One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offence never
contemplated by government; else, why has it not assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate,
penalty? If a man who has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings for the State, he is put in
prison for a period unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by the discretion of those who
placed him there; but if he should steal ninety times nine shillings from the State, he is soon permitted to
go at large again.
[5] If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go;
perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a
pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy
will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice
to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have
to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
[6] As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such
ways. They take too much time, and a man's life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into
this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has
not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he
should do something wrong. It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any
more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in
this case the State has provided no way; its very Constitution is the evil. This may seem to be harsh and
stubborn and unconciliatory; but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit
that can appreciate or deserves it. So is an change for the better, like birth and death which convulse the
[7] I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually
withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait
till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is
enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right
than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.
[8] I meet this American government, or its representative, the State government, directly, and face to
face, once a year — no more — in the person of its tax-gatherer;(4) this is the only mode in which a man
situated as I am necessarily meets it; and it then says distinctly, Recognize me; and the simplest, the most
effectual, and, in the present posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode of treating with it on this head,
of expressing your little satisfaction with and love for it, is to deny it then. My civil neighbor, the taxgatherer, is the very man I have to deal with — for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I
quarrel — and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government. How shall he ever know well
what he is and does as an officer of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether
he shall treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well-disposed man, or as a
maniac and disturber of the peace, and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness without
a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with his action? I know this well, that if one
thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name — if ten honest men only — ay, if one
HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this
copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in
America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done
forever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. Reform keeps many scores of
newspapers in its service, but not one man. If my esteemed neighbor, the State's ambassador,(5) who will
devote his days to the settlement of the question of human rights in the Council Chamber, instead of being
threatened with the prisons of Carolina, were to sit down the prisoner of Massachusetts, that State which
is so anxious to foist the sin of slavery upon her sister — though at present she can discover only an act of
inhospitality to be the ground of a quarrel with her — the Legislature would not wholly waive the subject
the following winter.
[9] Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The
proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding
spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put
themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole,
and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more free and
honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her — the only house in
a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence would be lost
there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its
walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and
effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote,
not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the
majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the
alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to
choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody
measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.
This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax-gatherer, or any
other public officer, asks me, as one has done, "But what shall I do?" my answer is, "If you really wish to
do anything, resign your office." When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his
office, then the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of
blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man's real manhood and immortality
flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now.
[10] I have contemplated the imprisonment of the offender, rather than the seizure of his goods —
though both will serve the same purpose — because they who assert the purest right, and consequently are
most dangerous to a corrupt State, commonly have not spent much time in accumulating property. To
such the State renders comparatively small service, and a slight tax is wont to appear exorbitant,
particularly if they are obliged to earn it by special labor with their hands. If there were one who lived
wholly without the use of money, the State itself would hesitate to demand it of him. But the rich man —
not to make any invidious comparison — is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.
Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue; for money comes between a man and his objects,
and obtains them for him; and it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it. It puts to rest many questions
which he would otherwise be taxed to answer; while the only new question which it puts is the hard but
superfluous one, how to spend it. Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet. The opportunities of
living are diminished in proportion as what are called the "means" are increased. The best thing a man can
do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he
was poor. Christ answered the Herodians according to their condition. "Show me the tribute-money," said
he; — and one took a penny out of his pocket; — if you use money which has the image of Cæsar on it,
and which he has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State, and gladly enjoy the
advantages of Cæsar's government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it; "Render
therefore to Cæsar that which is Cæsar's, and to God those things which are God's"(6) — leaving them no
wiser than before as to which was which; for they did not wish to know.
[11] When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive that, whatever they may say about the
magnitude and seriousness of the question, and their regard for the public tranquillity, the long and the
short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the protection of the existing government, and they dread the
consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it. For my own part, I should not like to
think that I ever rely on the protection of the State. But, if I deny the authority of the State when it
presents its tax-bill, it will soon take and waste all my property, and so harass me and my children without
end. This is hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and at the same time comfortably in
outward respects. It will not be worth the while to accumulate property; that would be sure to go again.
You must hire or squat somewhere, and raise but a small crop, and eat that soon. You must live within
yourself, and depend upon yourself always tucked up and ready for a start, and not have many affairs. A
man may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in all respects a good subject of the Turkish
government. Confucius said, "If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are
subjects of shame;(7) if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors are the
subjects of shame." No: until I want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant
Southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or until I am bent solely on building up an estate at home
by peaceful enterprise, I can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts, and her right to my property
and life. It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to
obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case.
[12] Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the Church, and commanded me to pay a certain
sum toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching my father attended, but never I myself. "Pay," it
said, "or be locked up in the jail." I declined to pay. But, unfortunately, another man saw fit to pay it. I did
not see why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster:
for I was not the State's schoolmaster, but I supported myself by voluntary subscription. I did not see why
the lyceum (8) should not present its tax-bill, and have the State to back its demand, as well as the
Church. However, at the request of the selectmen, I condescended to make some such statement as this in
writing: — "Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a
member of any incorporated society which I have not joined." This I gave to the town clerk; and he has it.
The State, having thus learned that I did not wish to be regarded as a member of that church, has never
made a like demand on me since; though it said that it must adhere to its original presumption that time. If
I had known how to name them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I
never signed on to; but I did not know where to find a complete list.
[13] I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as
I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot
thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of
that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. I wondered
that it should have concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me to, and had never thought
to avail itself of my services in some way. I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my
townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through, before they could get to be as
free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and
mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to treat
me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat and in every compliment there was a
blunder; for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that stone wall. I could not
but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out
again without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was dangerous. As they could not reach me,
they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person against whom they
have a spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman
with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining
respect for it, and pitied it.
[14] Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body,
his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born
to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a
multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like
themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to have this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life
were that to live? When I meet a government which says to me, "Your money or your life," why should I
be in haste to give it my money? It may be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot help that. It
must help itself; do as I do. It is not worth the while to snivel about it. I am not responsible for the
successful working of the machinery of society. I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive that, when an
acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both
obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows
and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.
1. "No Union with Slaveholders" had become an abolitionist slogan
2. Nicolas Copernicas (1473-1543) Polish founder of modern astronomy; his work On the Revolutions was dedicated to Pope Paul III and
published in 1543, and he was not excommunicated
3. Martin Luther (1483-1546) German monk and Protestant Reformation leader
4. Sam Staples, local constable and tax collector in Concord
5. Samuel Hoar (1778-1856) of Concord, sent by Mass. legislature to S. Carolina to protest the impoundment of free black sailors, and was forced
to leave. His daughter was a close friend of the Emerson’s and a childhood friend of Thoreau
6. Matthew 22:19-22
7. Analects, 8:13
8. A hall where public lectures are held
Part Three:
[1] The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. The prisoners in their shirt-sleeves were
enjoying a chat and the evening air in the doorway, when I entered. But the jailer said, "Come, boys, it is
time to lock up"; and so they dispersed, and I heard the sound of their steps returning into the hollow
apartments. My room-mate was introduced to me by the jailer as "a first-rate fellow and a clever man."
When the door was locked, he showed me where to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there. The
rooms were whitewashed once a month; and this one, at least, was the whitest, most simply furnished, and
probably the neatest apartment in the town. He naturally wanted to know where I came from, and what
brought me there; and, when I had told him, I asked him in my turn how he came there, presuming him to
be an honest man, of course; and, as the world goes, I believe he was. "Why," said he, "they accuse me of
burning a barn; but I never did it." As near as I could discover, he had probably gone to bed in a barn
when drunk, and smoked his pipe there; and so a barn was burnt. He had the reputation of being a clever
man, had been there some three months waiting for his trial to come on, and would have to wait as much
longer; but he was quite domesticated and contented, since he got his board for nothing, and thought that
he was well treated.
[2] He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw that if one stayed there long, his principal
business would be to look out the window. I had soon read all the tracts that were left there, and examined
where former prisoners had broken out, and where a grate had been sawed off, and heard the history of
the various occupants of that room; for I found that even here there was a history and a gossip which
never circulated beyond the walls of the jail. Probably this is the only house in the town where verses are
composed, which are afterward printed in a circular form, but not published. I was shown quite a long list
of verses which were composed by some young men who had been detected in an attempt to escape, who
avenged themselves by singing them.
[3] I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I should never see him again; but at length
he showed me which was my bed, and left me to blow out the lamp.
[4] It was like travelling into a far country, such as I had never expected to behold, to lie there for one
night. It seemed to me that I never had heard the town-clock strike before, nor the evening sounds of the
village; for we slept with the windows open, which were inside the grating. It was to see my native village
in the light of the Middle Ages, and our Concord was turned into a Rhine stream, and visions of knights
and castles passed before me. They were the voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an
involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent village-inn
— a wholly new and rare experience to me. It was a closer view of my native town. I was fairly inside of
it. I never had seen its institutions before. This is one of its peculiar institutions; for it is a shire town.(1) I
began to comprehend what its inhabitants were about.
[5] In the morning, our breakfasts were put through the hole in the door, in small oblong-square tin
pans, made to fit, and holding a pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon. When they called
for the vessels again, I was green enough to return what bread I had left; but my comrade seized it, and
said that I should lay that up for lunch or dinner. Soon after he was let out to work at haying in a
neighboring field, whither he went every day, and would not be back till noon; so he bade me good-day,
saying that he doubted if he should see me again.
[6] When I came out of prison — for some one interfered, and paid that tax — I did not perceive that
great changes had taken place on the common, such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a
tottering and gray-headed man; and yet a change had to my eyes come over the scene — the town, and
State, and country — greater than any that mere time could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the State in
which I lived. I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors
and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly propose to do
right; that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen and
Malays are; that in their sacrifices to humanity, they ran no risks, not even to their property; that after all
they were not so noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by a certain outward
observance and a few prayers, and by walking in a particular straight though useless path from time to
time, to save their souls. This may be to judge my neighbors harshly; for I believe that many of them are
not aware that they have such an institution as the jail in their village.
[7] It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor debtor came out of jail, for his acquaintances
to salute him, looking through their fingers, which were crossed to represent the grating of a jail window,
"How do ye do?" My neighbors did not thus salute me, but first looked at me, and then at one another, as
if I had returned from a long journey. I was put into jail as I was going to the shoemaker's to get a shoe
which was mended. When I was let out the next morning, I proceeded to finish my errand, and, having
put on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry party, who were impatient to put themselves under my
conduct; and in half an hour — for the horse was soon tackled — was in the midst of a huckleberry field,
on one of our highest hills, two miles off, and then the State was nowhere to be seen.
[8] This is the whole history of "My Prisons."(2)
[9] I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as
I am of being a bad subject; and as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellowcountrymen now. It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse
allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of
my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with — the dollar is innocent — but I am
concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my
fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases.
[10] If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a sympathy with the State, they do but what
they have already done in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State
requires. If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to save his property, or
prevent his going to jail, it is because they have not considered wisely how far they let their private
feelings interfere with the public good.
[11] This, then, is my position at present. But one cannot be too much on his guard in such a case, lest
his action be biased by obstinacy or an undue regard for the opinions of men. Let him see that he does
only what belongs to himself and to the hour.
[12] I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well; they are only ignorant; they would do better if they
knew how: why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? But I think, again,
This is no reason why I should do as they do, or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different
kind. Again, I sometimes say to myself, When many millions of men, without heat, without ill-will,
without personal feeling of any kind, demand of you a few shillings only, without the possibility, such is
their constitution, of retracting or altering their present demand, and without the possibility, on your side,
of appeal to any other millions, why expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force? You do not resist
cold and hunger, the winds and the waves, thus obstinately; you quietly submit to a thousand similar
necessities. You do not put your head into the fire. But just in proportion as I regard this as not wholly a
brute force, but partly a human force, and consider that I have relations to those millions as to so many
millions of men, and not of mere brute or inanimate things, I see that appeal is possible, first and
instantaneously, from them to the Maker of them, and, secondly, from them to themselves. But, if I put
my head deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal to fire or to the Maker of fire, and I have only myself
to blame. If I could convince myself that I have any right to be satisfied with men as they are, and to treat
them accordingly, and not according, in some respects, to my requisitions and expectations of what they
and I ought to be, then, like a good Mussulman (3) and fatalist, I should endeavor to be satisfied with
things as they are, and say it is the will of God. And, above all, there is this difference between resisting
this and a purely brute or natural force, that I can resist this with some effect; but I cannot expect, like
Orpheus,(4) to change the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts.
[13] I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split hairs, to make fine
distinctions, or set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for
conforming to the laws of the land. I am but too ready to conform to them. Indeed, I have reason to
suspect myself on this head; and each year, as the tax-gatherer comes round, I find myself disposed to
review the acts and position of the general and State governments, and the spirit of the people, to discover
a pretext for conformity.
"We must affect our country as our parents,
And if at any time we alienate
Our love or industry from doing it honor,
We must respect effects and teach the soul
Matter of conscience and religion,
And not desire of rule or benefit."(5)
[14] I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my work of this sort out of my hands, and then I
shall be no better a patriot than my fellow-countrymen. Seen from a lower point of view, the Constitution,
with all its faults, is very good; the law and the courts are very respectable; even this State and this
American government are, in many respects, very admirable and rare things, to be thankful for, such as a
great many have described them; but seen from a point of view a little higher, they are what I have
described them; seen from a higher still, and the highest, who shall say what they are, or that they are
worth looking at or thinking of at all?
[15] However, the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible
thoughts on it. It is not many moments that I live under a government, even in this world. If a man is
thought-free, fancy-free, imagination-free, that which is not never for a long time appearing to be to him,
unwise rulers or reformers cannot fatally interrupt him.
[16] I know that most men think differently from myself; but those whose lives are by profession
devoted to the study of these or kindred subjects, content me as little as any. Statesmen and legislators,
standing so completely within the institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of
moving society, but have no resting-place without it. They may be men of a certain experience and
discrimination, and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely
thank them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits. They are wont to forget
that the world is not governed by policy and expediency. Webster never goes behind government, and so
cannot speak with authority about it. His words are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no
essential reform in the existing government; but for thinkers, and those who legislate for all time, he never
once glances at the subject. I know of those whose serene and wise speculations on this theme would soon
reveal the limits of his mind's range and hospitality. Yet, compared with the cheap professions of most
reformers, and the still cheaper wisdom and eloquence of politicians in general, his are almost the only
sensible and valuable words, and we thank Heaven for him. Comparatively, he is always strong, original,
and, above all, practical. Still, his quality is not wisdom, but prudence. The lawyer's truth is not truth, but
consistency or a consistent expediency. Truth is always in harmony with herself, and is not concerned
chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with wrong-doing. He well deserves to be called, as he has
been called, the Defender of the Constitution. There are really no blows to be given by him but defensive
ones. He is not a leader, but a follower. His leaders are the men of '87.(6) "I have never made an effort,"
he says, "and never propose to make an effort; I have never countenanced an effort, and never mean to
countenance an effort, to disturb the arrangement as originally made, by which the various States came
into the Union." Still thinking of the sanction which the Constitution gives to slavery, he says, "Because it
was a part of the original compact — let it stand."(7) Notwithstanding his special acuteness and ability, he
is unable to take a fact out of its merely political relations, and behold it as it lies absolutely to be
disposed of by the intellect — what, for instance, it behooves a man to do here in America to-day with
regard to slavery, but ventures, or is driven, to make some such desperate answer as the following, while
professing to speak absolutely, and as a private man — from which what new and singular code of social
duties might be inferred? "The manner," says he, "in which the governments of those States where slavery
exists are to regulate it is for their own consideration, under their responsibility to their constituents, to the
general laws of propriety, humanity, and justice, and to God. Associations formed elsewhere, springing
from a feeling of humanity, or any other cause, have nothing whatever to do with it. They have never
received any encouragement from me, and they never will."
[17] They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and
wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humility; but they
who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird up their loins once more, and
continue their pilgrimage toward its fountain-head.
[18] No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the
world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet
opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love
eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our
legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free-trade and of freedom, of union, and of
rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and
finance, commerce and manufacturers and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of
legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual
complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations. For eighteen
hundred years, though perchance I have no right to say it, the New Testament has been written; yet where
is the legislator who has wisdom and practical talent enough to avail himself of the light which it sheds on
the science of legislation?
[19] The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to — for I will cheerfully obey
those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so
well — is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It
can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an
absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true
respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher (8) was wise enough to regard the individual as
the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in
government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of
man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the
individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived,
and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to
all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent
with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who
fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it
to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which
also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.
1. At the time, Concord was a county seat
2. Reference to Le Mie Prigioni by Silvio Pellico (1789-1854), about his 8 years as a political prisoner, English translation 1833
3. A Muslim
4. In Greek mythology, a musician whose songs could charm rocks and trees and beasts
5. George Peele (1557?-1597?), Battle of Alcazar (in later editions only) 6. Writers of the Constitution in 1787
7. Daniel Webster (1782-1852) from speech in U.S. Senate
8. Probably Confucius (551-479 B.C.)
Thanatopsis – William Cullens Bryant (1817,1821)
TO HIM who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix forever with the elements;
To be a brother to the insensible rock,
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world,—with kings,
The powerful of the earth,—the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun; the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,—
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man! The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings,—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest; and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
The Prairies.
THESE are the gardens of the Desert, these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no name -The Prairies. I behold them for the first,
And my heart swells, while the dilated sight
Takes in the encircling vastness. Lo! they stretch,
In airy undulations, far away,
As if the ocean, in his gentlest swell,
Stood still, with an his rounded billows fixed,
And motionless forever. -- Motionless? --
No -- they are all unchained again. The clouds
Sweep over with their shadows, and, beneath,
The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye;
Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase
The sunny ridges. Breezes of the South!
Who toss the golden and the flame-like flowers,
And pass the prairie-hawk that, poised on high,
Flaps his broad wings, yet moves not -- ye have played
Among the palms of Mexico and vines
Of Texas, and have crisped the limpid brooks
That from the fountains of Sonora glide
Into the calm Pacific -- have ye fanned
A nobler or a lovelier scene than this?
Man hath no power in all this glorious work:
The hand that built the firmament hath heaved
And smoothed these verdant swells, and sown their slopes
With herbage, planted them with island groves,
And hedged them round with forests. Fitting floor
For this magnificent temple of the sky -With flowers whose glory and whose multitude
Rival the constellations! The great heavens
Seem to stoop down upon the scene in love, --
A nearer vault, and of a tenderer blue,
Than that which bends above our eastern hills.
As o'er the verdant waste I guide my steed,
Among the high rank grass that sweeps his sides
The hollow beating of his footstep seems
A sacrilegious sound. I think of those
Upon whose rest he tramples. Are they here -The dead of other days? -- and did the dust
Of these fair solitudes once stir with life
And burn with passion? Let the mighty mounds
That overlook the rivers, or that rise
In the dim forest crowded with old oaks,
Answer. A race, that long has passed away,
Built them; -- a disciplined and populous race
Heaped, with long toil, the earth, while yet the Greek
Was hewing the Pentelicus to forms
Of symmetry, and rearing on its rock
The glittering Parthenon. These ample fields
Nourished their harvests, here their herds were fed,
When haply by their stalls the bison lowed,
And bowed his maned shoulder to the yoke.
All day this desert murmured with their toils,
Till twilight blushed, and lovers walked, and wooed
In a forgotten language, and old tunes,
From instruments of unremembered form,
Gave the soft winds a voice. The red man came -The roaming hunter tribes, warlike and fierce,
And the mound-builders vanished from the earth.
The solitude of centuries untold
Has settled where they dwelt. The prairie-wolf
Hunts in their meadows, and his fresh-dug den
Yawns by my path. The gopher mines the ground
Where stood their swarming cities. All is gone --
All -- save the piles of earth that hold their bones -The platforms where they worshipped unknown gods -The barriers which they builded from the soil
To keep the foe at bay -- till o'er the walls
The wild beleaguerers broke, and, one by one,
The strongholds of the plain were forced, and heaped
With corpses. The brown vultures of the wood
Flocked to those vast uncovered sepulchres,
And sat, unscared and silent, at their feast.
Haply some solitary fugitive,
Lurking in marsh and forest, till the sense
Of desolation and of fear became
Bitterer than death, yielded himself to die.
Man's better nature triumphed then. Kind words
Welcomed and soothed him; the rude conquerors
Seated the captive with their chiefs; he chose
A bride among their maidens, and at length
Seemed to forget -- yet ne'er forgot -- the wife
Of his first love, and her sweet little ones,
Butchered, amid their shrieks, with all his race.
Thus change the forms of being. Thus arise
Races of living things, glorious in strength,
And perish, as the quickening breath of God
Fills them, or is withdrawn. The red man, too,
Has left the blooming wilds he ranged so long,
And, nearer to the Rocky Mountains, sought
A wilder hunting-ground. The beaver builds
No longer by these streams, but far away,
On waters whose blue surface ne'er gave back
The white man's face -- among Missouri's springs,
And pools whose issues swell the Oregon -He rears his little Venice. In these plains
The bison feeds no more. Twice twenty leagues
Beyond the remotest smoke of hunter's camp,
Beyond remotest smoke of hunter's camp,
Roams the majestic brute, in herds that shake
The earth with thundering steps -- yet here I meet
His ancient footprints stamped beside the pool.
Still this great solitude is quick with life.
Myriads of insects, gaudy as the flowers
They flutter over, gentle quadrupeds,
And birds, that scarce have learned the fear of man,
Are here, and sliding reptiles of the ground,
Startlingly beautiful. The graceful deer
Bounds to the wood at my approach. The bee,
A more adventurous colonist than man,
With whom he came across the eastern deep,
Fills the savannas with his murmurings,
And hides his sweets, as in the golden age,
Within the hollow oak. I listen long
To his domestic hum, and think I hear
The sound of that advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts. From the ground
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of herds
Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain
Over the dark brown furrows. All at once
A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks my dream,
And I am in the wilderness alone.
Historical Footnote:
Edgar Allen Poe's remarks on the poem "The Prairies"
as published in the 1836 edition of Bryant's Poems
Mr. Bryant's poetical reputation, both at home and abroad, is greater, we presume, than that of any other
American. British critics have frequently awarded him high praise, and here, the public press have been
unanimous in approbation. We can call to mind no dissenting voice. Yet the nature, and, most especially
the manner, of the expressed opinions in this case, should be considered as somewhat equivocal, and but
too frequently must have borne to the mind of the poet doubts and dissatisfaction. The edition now before
us may be supposed to embrace all such of his poems as he deems not unworthy his name. These
(amounting to about one hundred) have been "carefully revised." With the exception of some few, about
which nothing could well be said, we will speak briefly of them...
The Prairies. This is a poem, in blank Pentameter, of about one hundred and twenty-five lines, and
possesses features which do not appear in any of the pieces above mentioned. Its descriptive beauty is of a
high order. The peculiar points of interest in the Prairie are vividly shown forth, and as a local painting,
the work is, altogether, excellent. Here are moreover, evidences of fine imagination...
January 1837 Southern Literary Messenger,
To A Waterfowl – William Cullen Bryant (1818-1821)
WHITHER, midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly seen against the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.
Seek'st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chafed ocean-side?
There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast—
The desert and illimitable air—
Lone wandering, but not lost.
All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.
And soon that toil shall end;
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,
Soon, o'er thy sheltered nest.
Thou 'rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.
He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.
A Forest Hymn – William Cullen Bryant
THE GROVES were God's first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them—ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
And supplication. For his simple heart
Might not resist the sacred influences
Which, from the stilly twilight of the place,
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven
Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound
Of the invisible breath that swayed at once
All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed
His spirit with the thought of boundless power
And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why
Should we, in the world's riper years, neglect
God's ancient sanctuaries, and adore
Only among the crowd, and under roofs
That our frail hands have raised? Let me, at least,
Here, in the shadow of this aged wood,
Offer one hymn—thrice happy if it find
Acceptance in His ear.
Father, thy hand
Hath reared these venerable columns, thou
Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down
Upon the naked earth, and, forthwith, rose
All these fair ranks of trees. They, in thy sun,
Budded, and shook their green leaves in thy breeze,
And shot towards heaven. The century-living crow,
Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died
Among their branches, till, at last, they stood,
As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark,
Fit shrine for humble worshipper to hold
Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults,
These winding aisles, of human pomp or pride
Report not. No fantastic carvings show
The boast of our vain race to change the form
Of thy fair works. But thou art here—thou fill'st
The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds
That run along the summit of these trees
In music; thou art in the cooler breath
That from the inmost darkness of the place
Comes, scarcely felt; the barky trunks, the ground,
The fresh moist ground, are all instinct with thee.
Here is continual worship;—Nature, here,
In the tranquillity that thou dost love,
Enjoys thy presence. Noiselessly, around,
From perch to perch, the solitary bird
Passes; and yon clear spring, that, midst its herbs,
Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots
Of half the mighty forest, tells no tale
Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left
Thyself without a witness, in these shades,
Of thy perfections. Grandeur, strength, and grace,
Are here to speak of thee. This mighty oak,—
By whose immovable stem I stand and seem
Almost annihilated—not a prince,
In all that proud old world beyond the deep,
E'er wore his crown as loftily as he
Wears the green coronal of leaves with which
Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root
Is beauty, such as blooms not in the glare
Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower,
With scented breath and look so like a smile,
Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould,
An emanation of the indwelling Life,
A visible token of the upholding Love,
That are the soul of this great universe.
My heart is awed within me when I think
Of the great miracle that still goes on,
In silence, round me—the perpetual work
Of thy creation, finished, yet renewed
Forever. Written on thy works I read
The lesson of thy own eternity.
Lo! all grow old and die—but see again,
How on the faltering footsteps of decay
Youth presses,—ever-gay and beautiful youth
In all its beautiful forms. These lofty trees
Wave not less proudly that their ancestors
Moulder beneath them. O, there is not lost
One of earth's charms: upon her bosom yet,
After the flight of untold centuries,
The freshness of her far beginning lies
And yet shall lie. Life mocks the idle hate
Of his arch-enemy Death—yea, seats himself
Upon the tyrant's throne—the sepulchre,
And of the triumphs of his ghastly foe
Makes his own nourishment. For he came forth
From thine own bosom, and shall have no end.
There have been holy men who hid themselves
Deep in the woody wilderness, and gave
Their lives to thought and prayer, till they outlived
The generation born with them, nor seemed
Less aged than the hoary trees and rocks
Around them;—and there have been holy men
Who deemed it were not well to pass life thus.
But let me often to these solitudes
Retire, and in thy presence reassure
My feeble virtue. Here its enemies,
The passions, at thy plainer footsteps shrink
And tremble and are still. O God! when thou
Dost scare the world with tempests, set on fire
The heavens with falling thunderbolts, or fill,
With all the waters of the firmament,
The swift dark whirlwind that uproots the woods
And drowns the villages; when, at thy call,
Uprises the great deep and throws himself
Upon the continent, and overwhelms
Its cities—who forgets not, at the sight
Of these tremendous tokens of thy power,
His pride, and lays his strifes and follies by?
O, from these sterner aspects of thy face
Spare me and mine, nor let us need the wrath
Of the mad, unchainèd elements to teach
Who rules them. Be it ours to meditate,
In these calm shades, thy milder majesty,
And to the beautiful order of thy works
Learn to conform the order of our lives.
from Nature – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A subtle chain of countless rings
The next unto the farthest brings;
The eye reads omens where it goes,
And speaks all languages the rose;
And, striving to be man, the worm
Mounts through all the spires of form
Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and
criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why
should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and
philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?
Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by
the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of
the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day
also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us
demand our own works and laws and worship.
Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the
creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the
order of things can satisfy. Every man's condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would
put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and
tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition, that shines so peacefully
around us. Let us inquire, to what end is nature?
All science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature. We have theories of races and of functions,
but scarcely yet a remote approach to an idea of creation. We are now so far from the road to truth, that
religious teachers dispute and hate each other, and speculative men are esteemed unsound and frivolous.
But to a sound judgment, the most abstract truth is the most practical. Whenever a true theory appears, it
will be its own evidence. Its test is, that it will explain all phenomena. Now many are thought not only
unexplained but inexplicable; as language, sleep, madness, dreams, beasts, sex.
Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul. Strictly speaking, therefore,
all that is separate from us, all which Philosophy distinguishes as the NOT ME, that is, both nature and
art, all other men and my own body, must be ranked under this name, NATURE. In enumerating the
values of nature and casting up their sum, I shall use the word in both senses; -- in its common and in its
philosophical import. In inquiries so general as our present one, the inaccuracy is not material; no
confusion of thought will occur. Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man;
space, the air, the river, the leaf. Art is applied to the mixture of his will with the same things, as in a
house, a canal, a statue, a picture. But his operations taken together are so insignificant, a little chipping,
baking, patching, and washing, that in an impression so grand as that of the world on the human mind,
they do not vary the result.
To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary
whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.
The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One
might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies,
the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should
appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many
generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these
envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural
objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean
appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her
perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected
the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.
When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean
the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of
timber of the wood-cutter, from the tree of the poet. The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is
indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the
woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man
has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms,
yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.
To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a
very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart
of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each
other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven
and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man,
in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, -- he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall
be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight;
for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless
noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good
health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight,
under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have
enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years,
as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual
youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and
the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and
faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,)
which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted
into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all;
the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the
nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, -- master or servant,
is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I
find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially
in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.
The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between
man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving
of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its
effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking
justly or doing right.
Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight, does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a
harmony of both. It is necessary to use these pleasures with great temperance. For, nature is not always
tricked in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfume and glittered as for the
frolic of the nymphs, is overspread with melancholy today. Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.
To a man laboring under calamity, the heat of his own fire hath sadness in it. Then, there is a kind of
contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend. The sky is less grand as it
shuts down over less worth in the population.
Definitions from A Handbook to Literature, Sixth Edition
C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon.
Romanticism: a movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that marked the reaction in
literature, philosophy, art, religion, and politics from the neoclassicism and formal orthodoxy of the
preceding period. Romanticism arose so gradually and exhibited so many phases that a satisfactory
definition is not possible. The aspect most stressed in France is reflected in Victor Hugo's phrase
"liberalism in literature," meaning especially the freeing of the artist and writer from restrains and rules
and suggesting that phase of individualism marked by the encouragement of revolutionary political ideas.
The poet Heine noted the chief aspect of German romanticism in calling it the revival of medievalism in
art, letters, and life. Walter Pater thought the addition of strangement to beauty (the neoclassicists having
insisted on order in beauty) constituted the romantic temper. An interesting schematic explanation calls
romanticism the predominance of imagination over reason and formal rules (classicism) and over the
sense of fact or the actual (realism), a formula that recalls Hazlitt's statement (1816) that the class beauty
of a Greek temple resided chiefly in its actual form and its obvious connotations, whereas the "romantic"
beauty of a Gothic building or ruin arose from associated ideas that the imagination was stimulated to
conjure up. The term is used in many senses, a recent favorite being that which sees in the romantic mood
a psychological desire to escape from unpleasant realities.
Perhaps more useful to the student than definitions will be a list of romantic characteristics, though
romanticism was not a clearly conceived system. Among the aspects of the romantic movement in
England may be listed: sensibility; primitivism; love of nature; sympathetic interest in the past, especially
the medieval; mysticism; individualism; romanticism criticism; and a reaction against whatever
characterized neoclassicism. Among the specific characteristics embraced by these general attitudes are:
the abandonment of the heroic couplet in favor of blank verse, the sonnet, the Spenserian stanza, and
many experimental verse forms; the dropping of the conventional poetic diction in favor of fresher
language and bolder figures; the idealization of rural life (Goldsmith); enthusiasm for the wild, irregular,
or grotesque in nature and art; unrestrained imagination; enthusiasm for the uncivilized or "natural";
interest in human rights (Burns, Byron); sympathy with animal life (Cowper); sentimental melancholy
(Gray); emotional psychology in fiction (Richardson); collection and imitation of popular ballads (Percy,
Scott); interest in ancient Celtic and Scandinavian mythology and literature ; renewed interest in Spenser,
Shakespeare, and Milton. Typical literary forms include the lyric, especially the love lyric, the reflective
lyric, the nature lyric, and the lyric of morbid melancholy...;the sentimental novel; the metrical romance;
the sentimental comedy; the ballad; the problem novel; the historical novel; the Gothic romance; the
sonnet; and the critical essay....
The term designates a literary and philosophical theory that tends to see the individual at the center of all
life, and it places the individual, therefore, at the center of art, making literature valuable as an expression
of unique feelings and particular attitudes (the expressive theory of criticism) and valuing its fidelity in
portraying experiences, however fragmentary and incomplete, more than it values adherence to
completeness, unity, or the demands of genre. Although romanticism tends at times to regard nature as
alien, it more often sees in nature a revelation of Truth, the "living garment of God," and a more suitable
subject for art than those aspects of the world sullied by artifice. Romanticism seeks to find the Absolute,
the Ideal, by transcending the actual, whereas realism finds its values in the actual and naturalism in the
scientific laws the undergird the actual.
Romantic Period in American Literature, 1830-1865.
The period between the "second revolution" of the Jacksonian Era and the close of the Civil War in
America saw the testings of a nation and its development by ordeal. It was an age of great westward
expansion, of the increasing gravity of the slavery question, of an intensification of the spirit of embattled
sectionalism in the South, and of a powerful impulse to reform in the North. Its culminating act was the
trial by arms of the opposing views in a civil war, whose conclusion certified the fact of a united nation
dedicated to the concepts of industry and capitalism and philosophically committed to egalitarianism. In a
sense it may be said that the three decades following the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson in
1829 put to the test his views of democracy and saw emerge from the test a secure union committed to
essentially Jacksonian principles.
In literature it was America's first great creative period, a full flowering of the romantic impulse on
American soil. Surviving form the Federalist Age were its three major literary figures: Bryant, Irving, and
Cooper. Emerging as new writers of strength and creative power were the novelists Hawthorne, Simms,
Melville, and Harriet Beecher Stowe; the poets Poe, Whittier, Holmes, Longfellow, Lowell, Dickinson,
and Whitman; the essayists Thoreau, Emerson, and Holmes; the critics Poe, Lowell, and Simms....
The poetry was predominantly romantic in spirit and form. Moral qualities were significantly present in
the verse of Emerson, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, and Thoreau. The sectional issues
were debated in poetry by Whittier and Lowell speaking for abolition, and Timrod, Hayne, and Simms
speaking for the South. Poe formulated his theories of poetry and in some fifty lyrics practiced a
symbolist verse that was to be, despite the change of triviality by such contemporaries as Emerson, the
strongest single poetic influence emerging from pre-Civil War America, particularly in its impact on
European poetry....Whitman, beginning with the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, was the ultimate
expression of a poetry organic in form and romantic in spirit, united to a concept of democracy that was
pervasively egalitarian.
In essays and in lectures the New England transcendentalists-- Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and
Alcott--carried the expression of philosophic and religious ideas to a high level....In the 1850s emerged
the powerful symbolic novels of Hawthorne and Melville and the effective propaganda novel of Harriet
Beecher Stowe. Poe, Hawthorne, and Simms practiced the writing of short stories through the period,
taking up where Irving had left off in the development of the form…
At the end of the Civil War a new nation had been born, and it was to demand and receive a new literature
less idealistic and more practical, less exalted and more earthy, less consciously artistic and more honest
than that produced in the age when the American dream had glowed with greatest intensity and American
writers had made a great literary period by capturing on their pages the enthusiasm and the optimism of
that dream.
Introduction to Romanticism
…The early Romantic period thus coincides with what is often called the "age of revolutions"--including,
of course, the American (1776) and the French (1789) revolutions--an age of upheavals in political,
economic, and social traditions, the age which witnessed the initial transformations of the Industrial
Revolution. A revolutionary energy was also at the core of Romanticism, which quite consciously set out
to transform not only the theory and practice of poetry (and all art), but the very way we perceive the
world. Some of its major precepts have survived into the twentieth century and still affect our
contemporary period.
The imagination was elevated to a position as the supreme faculty of the mind. This contrasted
distinctly with the traditional arguments for the supremacy of reason. The Romantics tended to define and
to present the imagination as our ultimate "shaping" or creative power, the approximate human equivalent
of the creative powers of nature or even deity. It is dynamic, an active, rather than passive power, with
many functions. Imagination is the primary faculty for creating all art. On a broader scale, it is also the
faculty that helps humans to constitute reality, for (as Wordsworth suggested), we not only perceive the
world around us, but also in part create it. Uniting both reason and feeling (Coleridge described it with the
paradoxical phrase, "intellectual intuition"), imagination is extolled as the ultimate synthesizing faculty,
enabling humans to reconcile differences and opposites in the world of appearance. The reconciliation of
opposites is a central ideal for the Romantics. Finally, imagination is inextricably bound up with the other
two major concepts, for it is presumed to be the faculty which enables us to "read" nature as a system of
"Nature" meant many things to the Romantics. As suggested above, it was often presented as itself a
work of art, constructed by a divine imagination, in emblematic language. For example, throughout "Song
of Myself," Whitman makes a practice of presenting commonplace items in nature--"ants," "heap'd
stones," and "poke-weed"--as containing divine elements, and he refers to the "grass" as a natural
"hieroglyphic," "the handkerchief of the Lord." While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied
considerably--nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from
the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language--the prevailing views accorded nature
the status of an organically unified whole. It was viewed as "organic," rather than, as in the scientific or
rationalist view, as a system of "mechanical" laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the
universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an "organic" image, a
living tree or mankind itself. At the same time, Romantics gave greater attention both to describing
natural phenomena accurately and to capturing "sensuous nuance"--and this is as true of Romantic
landscape painting as of Romantic nature poetry. Accuracy of observation, however, was not sought for
its own sake. Romantic nature poetry is essentially a poetry of meditation.
Symbolism and Myth
Symbolism and myth were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic
view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature's emblematic language. They were valued
too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-toone communications of allegory. Partly, it may have been the desire to express the "inexpressible"--the
infinite--through the available resources of language that led to symbol at one level and myth (as
symbolic narrative) at another.
Other Concepts: Emotion, Lyric Poetry, and the Self
Other aspects of Romanticism were intertwined with the above three concepts. Emphasis on the
activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts,
and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary
supplement to purely logical reason. When this emphasis was applied to the creation of poetry, a very
important shift of focus occurred. Wordsworth's definition of all good poetry as "the spontaneous
overflow of powerful feelings" marks a turning point in literary history. By locating the ultimate source of
poetry in the individual artist, the tradition, stretching back to the ancients, of valuing art primarily for its
ability to imitate human life (that is, for its mimetic qualities) was reversed. In Romantic theory, art was
valuable not so much as a mirror of the external world, but as a source of illumination of the world within.
Among other things, this led to a prominence for first-person lyric poetry never accorded it in any
previous period. The "poetic speaker" became less a persona and more the direct person of the poet.
Wordsworth's Prelude and Whitman's "Song of Myself" are both paradigms of successful experiments to
take the growth of the poet's mind (the development of self) as subject for an "epic" enterprise made up of
lyric components. Confessional prose narratives such as Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and
Chateaubriand's Rene (1801), as well as disguised autobiographical verse narratives such as Byron's
Childe Harold (1818), are related phenomena. The interior journey and the development of the self
recurred everywhere as subject material for the Romantic artist. The artist-as-hero is a specifically
Romantic type.
Cole, Thomas: View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The
The Course of Empires – Thomas Cole
Thomas Cole (1801–1848)
The Course of Empire: The Savage State, 1833–36
Oil on canvas
Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, New-York Historical Society, 1858.1
Hudson 1
Thomas Cole (1801–1848)
The Course of Empire: The Arcadian or Pastoral State, 1833–36
Oil on canvas
New-York Historical Society, Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, 1858.2
Hudson 2
Louisa Davis Minot (1788–1858)
Niagara Falls, 1818
Oil on linen
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Sr., to the Waldron Phoenix
Belknap, Jr., Collection, 1956.4
Hudson 10
Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823–1900)
Sunset, Lake George, New York, 1867
Oil on canvas
New-York Historical Society, The Robert L. Stuart Collection, S-126
Hudson 15
The Pit and the Pendulum
Edgar Allan Poe
Impia tortorum longas hic turba furores Sanguinis innocui non satiata, aluit. Sospite nunc patria, fracto
nunc funeris antro, Mors ubi dira fuit vita salusque patent.
- Quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the site of the Jacobin Club House in
I WAS sick, sick unto death, with that long agony, and when they at length unbound me, and I was
permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me. The sentence, the dread sentence of death, was the
last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears. After that, the sound of the inquisitorial voices
seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. It conveyed to my soul the idea of REVOLUTION,
perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of a mill-wheel. This only for a brief period, for
presently I heard no more. Yet, for a while, I saw, but with how terrible an exaggeration ! I saw the lips of
the black-robed judges. They appeared to me white -- whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these
words -- and thin even to grotesqueness; thin with the intensity of their expression of firmness, of
immovable resolution, of stern contempt of human torture. I saw that the decrees of what to me was fate
were still issuing from those lips. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. I saw them fashion the
syllables of my name, and I shuddered, because no sound succeeded. I saw, too, for a few moments of
delirious horror, the soft and nearly imperceptible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the
walls of the apartment; and then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table. At first they
wore the aspect of charity, and seemed white slender angels who would save me: but then all at once there
came a most deadly nausea over my spirit, and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill, as if I had touched the
wire of a galvanic battery, while the angel forms became meaningless spectres, with heads of flame, and I
saw that from them there would be no help. And then there stole into my fancy, like a rich musical note,
the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave. The thought came gently and stealthily, and it
seemed long before it attained full appreciation; but just as my spirit came at length properly to feel and
entertain it, the figures of the judges vanished, as if magically, from before me; the tall candles sank into
nothingness; their flames went out utterly; the blackness of darkness superened ; all sensations appeared
swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades. Then silence, and stillness, and night
were the universe.
I had swooned; but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What of it there remained I will not
attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber -- no! In delirium -- no!
In a swoon -- no! In death -- no! Even in the grave all was not lost. Else there is no immortality for man.
Arousing from the most profound of slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some dream. Yet in a
second afterwards (so frail may that web have been) we remember not that we have dreamed. In the
return to life from the swoon there are two stages; first, that of the sense of mental or spiritual; secondly,
that of the sense of physical existence. It seems probable that if, upon reaching the second stage, we could
recall the impressions of the first, we should find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf
beyond. And that gulf is, what? How at least shall we distinguish its shadows from those of the tomb? But
if the impressions of what I have termed the first stage are not at will recalled, yet, after long interval, do
they not come unbidden, while we marvel whence they come? He who has never swooned is not he who
finds strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow; is not he who beholds floating in midair the sad visions that the many may not view; is not he who ponders over the perfume of some novel
flower; is not he whose brain grows bewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence which has
never before arrested his attention.
Amid frequent and thoughtful endeavours to remember , amid earnest struggles to regather some token of
the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul had lapsed, there have been moments when I have
dreamed of success; there have been brief, very brief periods when I have conjured up remembrances
which the lucid reason of a later epoch assures me could have had reference only to that condition of
seeming unconsciousness. These shadows of memory tell indistinctly of tall figures that lifted and bore
me in silence down -- down -- still down -- till a hideous dizziness oppressed me at the mere idea of the
interminableness of the descent. They tell also of a vague horror at my heart on account of that heart's
unnatural stillness. Then comes a sense of sudden motionlessness throughout all things; as if those who
bore me (a ghastly train!) had outrun, in their descent, the limits of the limitless , and paused from the
wearisomeness of their toil. After this I call to mind flatness and dampness; and then all is MADNESS -the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden things.
Very suddenly there came back to my soul motion and sound -- the tumultuous motion of the heart, and in
my ears the sound of its beating. Then a pause in which all is blank. Then again sound, and motion, and
touch, a tingling sensation pervading my frame. Then the mere consciousness of existence, without
thought, a condition which lasted long. Then, very suddenly, THOUGHT, and shuddering terror, and
earnest endeavour to comprehend my true state. Then a strong desire to lapse into insensibility. Then a
rushing revival of soul and a successful effort to move. And now a full memory of the trial, of the judges,
of the sable draperies, of the sentence, of the sickness, of the swoon. Then entire forgetfulness of all that
followed; of all that a later day and much earnestness of endeavour have enabled me vaguely to recall.
So far I had not opened my eyes. I felt that I lay upon my back unbound. I reached out my hand, and it
fell heavily upon something damp and hard. There I suffered it to remain for many minutes, while I strove
to imagine where and what I could be. I longed, yet dared not, to employ my vision. I dreaded the first
glance at objects around me. It was not that I feared to look upon things horrible, but that I grew aghast
lest there should be NOTHING to see. At length, with a wild desperation at heart, I quickly unclosed my
eyes. My worst thoughts, then, were confirmed. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I
struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. The atmosphere was
intolerably close. I still lay quietly, and made effort to exercise my reason. I brought to mind the
inquisitorial proceedings, and attempted from that point to deduce my real condition. The sentence had
passed, and it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed. Yet not for a moment
did I suppose myself actually dead. Such a supposition, notwithstanding what we read in fiction , is
altogether inconsistent with real existence; -- but where and in what state was I? The condemned to death,
I knew, perished usually at the auto-da-fes, and one of these had been held on the very night of the day of
my trial. Had I been remanded to my dungeon, to await the next sacrifice, which would not take place for
many months? This I at once saw could not be. Victims had been in immediate demand. Moreover my
dungeon, as well as all the condemned cells at Toledo, had stone floors, and light was not altogether
A fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart, and for a brief period I once more
relapsed into insensibility. Upon recovering, I at once started to my feet, trembling convulsively in every
fibre. I thrust my arms wildly above and around me in all directions. I felt nothing; yet dreaded to move a
step, lest I should be impeded by the walls of a TOMB. Perspiration burst from every pore, and stood in
cold big beads upon my forehead. The agony of suspense grew at length intolerable, and I cautiously
moved forward, with my arms extended , and my eyes straining from their sockets, in the hope of
catching some faint ray of light. I proceeded for many paces, but still all was blackness and vacancy. I
breathed more freely. It seemed evident that mine was not, at least, the most hideous of fates.
And now, as I still continued to step cautiously onward, there came thronging upon my recollection a
thousand vague rumours of the horrors of Toledo. Of the dungeons there had been strange things narrated
-- fables I had always deemed them -- but yet strange, and too ghastly to repeat, save in a whisper. Was I
left to perish of starvation in this subterranean world of darkness; or what fate perhaps even more fearful
awaited me? That the result would be death, and a death of more than customary bitterness, I knew too
well the character of my judges to doubt. The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted me.
My outstretched hands at length encountered some solid obstruction. It was a wall, seemingly of stone
masonry -- very smooth, slimy, and cold. I followed it up; stepping with all the careful distrust with which
certain antique narratives had inspired me. This process, however, afforded me no means of ascertaining
the dimensions of my dungeon; as I might make its circuit, and return to the point whence I set out,
without being aware of the fact, so perfectly uniform seemed the wall. I therefore sought the knife which
had been in my pocket when led into the inquisitorial chamber, but it was gone; my clothes had been
exchanged for a wrapper of coarse serge. I had thought of forcing the blade in some minute crevice of the
masonry, so as to identify my point of departure. The difficulty, nevertheless, was but trivial, although, in
the disorder of my fancy, it seemed at first insuperable. I tore a part of the hem from the robe, and placed
the fragment at full length, and at right angles to the wall. In groping my way around the prison, I could
not fail to encounter this rag upon completing the circuit. So, at least, I thought, but I had not counted
upon the extent of the dungeon, or upon my own weakness. The ground was moist and slippery. I
staggered onward for some time, when I stumbled and fell. My excessive fatigue induced me to remain
prostrate, and sleep soon overtook me as I lay.
Upon awaking, and stretching forth an arm, I found beside me a loaf and a pitcher with water. I was too
much exhausted to reflect upon this circumstance , but ate and drank with avidity. Shortly afterwards I
resumed my tour around the prison, and with much toil came at last upon the fragment of the serge. Up to
the period when I fell I had counted fifty-two paces, and upon resuming my walk I had counted fortyeight more, when I arrived at the rag. There were in all, then, a hundred paces; and, admitting two paces
to the yard, I presumed the dungeon to be fifty yards in circuit. I had met, however, with many angles in
the wall, and thus I could form no guess at the shape of the vault, for vault I could not help supposing it to
I had little object -- certainly no hope -- in these researches, but a vague curiosity prompted me to
continue them. Quitting the wall, I resolved to cross the area of the enclosure. At first I proceeded with
extreme caution, for the floor although seemingly of solid material was treacherous with slime. At length,
however, I took courage and did not hesitate to step firmly -- endeavouring to cross in as direct a line as
possible. I had advanced some ten or twelve paces in this manner, when the remnant of the torn hem of
my robe became entangled between my legs. I stepped on it, and fell violently on my face.
In the confusion attending my fall, I did not immediately apprehend a somewhat startling circumstance ,
which yet, in a few seconds afterward, and while I still lay prostrate, arrested my attention. It was this: my
chin rested upon the floor of the prison, but my lips, and the upper portion of my head, although
seemingly at a less elevation than the chin, touched nothing. At the same time, my forehead seemed
bathed in a clammy vapour, and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my nostrils. I put forward
my arm, and shuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pit, whose extent of course I
had no means of ascertaining at the moment. Groping about the masonry just below the margin, I
succeeded in dislodging a small fragment, and let it fall into the abyss. For many seconds I hearkened to
its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent ; at length there was a sullen
plunge into water, succeeded by loud echoes. At the same moment there came a sound resembling the
quick opening, and as rapid closing of a door overhead, while a faint gleam of light flashed suddenly
through the gloom, and as suddenly faded away.
I saw clearly the doom which had been prepared for me, and congratulated myself upon the timely
accident by which I had escaped. Another step before my fall, and the world had seen me no more and the
death just avoided was of that very character which I had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales
respecting the Inquisition. To the victims of its tyranny, there was the choice of death with its direst
physical agonies, or death with its most hideous moral horrors. I had been reserved for the latter. By long
suffering my nerves had been unstrung, until I trembled at the sound of my own voice, and had become in
every respect a fitting subject for the species of torture which awaited me.
Shaking in every limb, I groped my way back to the wall -- resolving there to perish rather than risk the
terrors of the wells, of which my imagination now pictured many in various positions about the dungeon.
In other conditions of mind I might have had courage to end my misery at once by a plunge into one of
these abysses; but now I was the veriest of cowards. Neither could I forget what I had read of these pits -that the SUDDEN extinction of life formed no part of their most horrible plan.
Agitation of spirit kept me awake for many long hours; but at length I again slumbered. Upon arousing, I
found by my side, as before, a loaf and a pitcher of water. A burning thirst consumed me, and I emptied
the vessel at a draught. It must have been drugged, for scarcely had I drunk before I became irresistibly
drowsy. A deep sleep fell upon me -- a sleep like that of death. How long it lasted of course I know not;
but when once again I unclosed my eyes the objects around me were visible. By a wild sulphurous lustre,
the origin of which I could not at first determine, I was enabled to see the extent and aspect of the prison.
In its size I had been greatly mistaken. The whole circuit of its walls did not exceed twenty-five yards.
For some minutes this fact occasioned me a world of vain trouble; vain indeed -- for what could be of less
importance, under the terrible circumstances which environed me than the mere dimensions of my
dungeon? But my soul took a wild interest in trifles, and I busied myself in endeavours to account for the
error I had committed in my measurement. The truth at length flashed upon me. In my first attempt at
exploration I had counted fifty-two paces up to the period when I fell; I must then have been within a pace
or two of the fragment of serge; in fact I had nearly performed the circuit of the vault. I then slept, and
upon awaking, I must have returned upon my steps, thus supposing the circuit nearly double what it
actually was. My confusion of mind prevented me from observing that I began my tour with the wall to
the left, and ended it with the wall to the right.
I had been deceived too in respect to the shape of the enclosure. In feeling my way I had found many
angles, and thus deduced an idea of great irregularity, so potent is the effect of total darkness upon one
arousing from lethargy or sleep! The angles were simply those of a few slight depressions or niches at odd
intervals. The general shape of the prison was square. What I had taken for masonry seemed now to be
iron, or some other metal in huge plates, whose sutures or joints occasioned the depression. The entire
surface of this metallic enclosure was rudely daubed in all the hideous and repulsive devices to which the
charnel superstition of the monks has given rise. The figures of fiends in aspects of menace, with skeleton
forms and other more really fearful images, overspread and disfigured the walls. I observed that the
outlines of these monstrosities were sufficiently distinct, but that the colours seemed faded and blurred, as
if from the effects of a damp atmosphere. I now noticed the floor, too, which was of stone. In the centre
yawned the circular pit from whose jaws I had escaped ; but it was the only one in the dungeon.
All this I saw indistinctly and by much effort, for my personal condition had been greatly changed during
slumber. I now lay upon my back, and at full length, on a species of low framework of wood. To this I
was securely bound by a long strap resembling a surcingle. It passed in many convolutions about my
limbs and body, leaving at liberty only my head, and my left arm to such extent that I could by dint of
much exertion supply myself with food from an earthen dish which lay by my side on the floor. I saw to
my horror that the pitcher had been removed . I say to my horror, for I was consumed with intolerable
thirst. This thirst it appeared to be the design of my persecutors to stimulate, for the food in the dish was
meat pungently seasoned.
Looking upward, I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead, and
constructed much as the side walls. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention .
It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that in lieu of a scythe he held what
at a casual glance I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique
clocks. There was something, however, in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it
more attentively. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own), I
fancied that I saw it in motion. In an instant afterward the fancy was confirmed. Its sweep was brief, and
of course slow. I watched it for some minutes, somewhat in fear but more in wonder. Wearied at length
with observing its dull movement, I turned my eyes upon the other objects in the cell.
A slight noise attracted my notice, and looking to the floor, I saw several enormous rats traversing it.
They had issued from the well which lay just within view to my right. Even then while I gazed, they came
up in troops hurriedly, with ravenous eyes, allured by the scent of the meat. From this it required much
effort and attention to scare them away.
It might have been half-an-hour, perhaps even an hour (for I could take but imperfect note of time) before
I again cast my eyes upward. What I then saw confounded and amazed me. The sweep of the pendulum
had increased in extent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequence, its velocity was also much greater.
But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly DESCENDED. I now observed, with
what horror it is needless to say, that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel,
about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that
of a razor. Like a razor also it seemed massy and heavy, tapering from the edge into a solid and broad
structure above. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass, and the whole HISSED as it swung through
the air.
I could no longer doubt the doom prepared for me by monkish ingenuity in torture. My cognisance of the
pit had become known to the inquisitorial agents -- THE PIT, whose horrors had been destined for so bold
a recusant as myself, THE PIT, typical of hell, and regarded by rumour as the Ultima Thule of all their
punishments. The plunge into this pit I had avoided by the merest of accidents, and I knew that surprise or
entrapment into torment formed an important portion of all the grotesquerie of these dungeon deaths.
Having failed to fall, it was no part of the demon plan to hurl me into the abyss, and thus (there being no
alternative) a different and a milder destruction awaited me. Milder! I half smiled in my agony as I
thought of such application of such a term.
What boots it to tell of the long, long hours of horror more than mortal, during which I counted the
rushing oscillations of the steel! Inch by inch -- line by line -- with a descent only appreciable at intervals
that seemed ages -- down and still down it came! Days passed -- it might have been that many days
passed -- ere it swept so closely over me as to fan me with its acrid breath. The odour of the sharp steel
forced itself into my nostrils. I prayed -- I wearied heaven with my prayer for its more speedy descent. I
grew frantically mad, and struggled to force myself upward against the sweep of the fearful scimitar. And
then I fell suddenly calm and lay smiling at the glittering death as a child at some rare bauble.
There was another interval of utter insensibility; it was brief, for upon again lapsing into life there had
been no perceptible descent in the pendulum. But it might have been long -- for I knew there were
demons who took note of my swoon, and who could have arrested the vibration at pleasure. Upon my
recovery, too, I felt very -- oh! inexpressibly -- sick and weak, as if through long inanition. Even amid the
agonies of that period the human nature craved food. With painful effort I outstretched my left arm as far
as my bonds permitted, and took possession of the small remnant which had been spared me by the rats.
As I put a portion of it within my lips there rushed to my mind a half-formed thought of joy -- of hope.
Yet what business had I with hope? It was, as I say, a half-formed thought -- man has many such, which
are never completed. I felt that it was of joy -- of hope; but I felt also that it had perished in its formation.
In vain I struggled to perfect -- to regain it. Long suffering had nearly annihilated all my ordinary powers
of mind. I was an imbecile -- an idiot.
The vibration of the pendulum was at right angles to my length. I saw that the crescent was designed to
cross the region of the heart. It would fray the serge of my robe; it would return and repeat its operations - again -- and again. Notwithstanding its terrifically wide sweep (some thirty feet or more) and the hissing
vigour of its descent, sufficient to sunder these very walls of iron, still the fraying of my robe would be all
that, for several minutes, it would accomplish; and at this thought I paused. I dared not go farther than this
reflection. I dwelt upon it with a pertinacity of attention -- as if, in so dwelling, I could arrest HERE the
descent of the steel. I forced myself to ponder upon the sound of the crescent as it should pass across the
garment -- upon the peculiar thrilling sensation which the friction of cloth produces on the nerves. I
pondered upon all this frivolity until my teeth were on edge.
Down -- steadily down it crept. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral
velocity. To the right -- to the left -- far and wide -- with the shriek of a damned spirit! to my heart with
the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled, as the one or the other idea grew
Down -- certainly, relentlessly down! It vibrated within three inches of my bosom! I struggled violently -furiously -- to free my left arm. This was free only from the elbow to the hand. I could reach the latter,
from the platter beside me to my mouth with great effort, but no farther. Could I have broken the
fastenings above the elbow, I would have seized and attempted to arrest the pendulum. I might as well
have attempted to arrest an avalanche!
Down -- still unceasingly -- still inevitably down! I gasped and struggled at each vibration. I shrunk
convulsively at its very sweep. My eyes followed its outward or upward whirls with the eagerness of the
most unmeaning despair; they closed themselves spasmodically at the descent, although death would have
been a relief, O, how unspeakable! Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the
machinery would precipitate that keen glistening axe upon my bosom. It was hope that prompted the
nerve to quiver -- the frame to shrink. It was HOPE -- the hope that triumphs on the rack -- that whispers
to the death-condemned even in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
I saw that some ten or twelve vibrations would bring the steel in actual contact with my robe, and with
this observation there suddenly came over my spirit all the keen, collected calmness of despair. For the
first time during many hours, or perhaps days, I THOUGHT. It now occurred to me that the bandage or
surcingle which enveloped me was UNIQUE. I was tied by no separate cord. The first stroke of the razorlike crescent athwart any portion of the band would so detach it that it might be unwound from my person
by means of my left hand. But how fearful, in that case, the proximity of the steel! The result of the
slightest struggle, how deadly! Was it likely, moreover, that the minions of the torturer had not foreseen
and provided for this possibility! Was it probable that the bandage crossed my bosom in the track of the
pendulum? Dreading to find my faint, and, as it seemed, my last hope frustrated, I so far elevated my head
as to obtain a distinct view of my breast. The surcingle enveloped my limbs and body close in all
Scarcely had I dropped my head back into its original position when there flashed upon my mind what I
cannot better describe than as the unformed half of that idea of deliverance to which I have previously
alluded, and of which a moiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when I raised food to my
burning lips. The whole thought was now present -- feeble, scarcely sane, scarcely definite, but still
entire. I proceeded at once, with the nervous energy of despair, to attempt its execution.
For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low framework upon which I lay had been literally
swarming with rats. They were wild, bold, ravenous , their red eyes glaring upon me as if they waited but
for motionlessness on my part to make me their prey. "To what food," I thought, "have they been
accustomed in the well?"
They had devoured, in spite of all my efforts to prevent them, all but a small remnant of the contents of
the dish. I had fallen into an habitual see-saw or wave of the hand about the platter; and at length the
unconscious uniformity of the movement deprived it of effect. In their voracity the vermin frequently
fastened their sharp fangs in my fingers. With the particles of the oily and spicy viand which now
remained, I thoroughly rubbed the bandage wherever I could reach it; then, raising my hand from the
floor, I lay breathlessly still.
At first the ravenous animals were startled and terrified at the change -- at the cessation of movement .
They shrank alarmedly back; many sought the well. But this was only for a moment. I had not counted in
vain upon their voracity. Observing that I remained without motion, one or two of the boldest leaped upon
the frame-work and smelt at the surcingle. This seemed the signal for a general rush. Forth from the well
they hurried in fresh troops. They clung to the wood, they overran it, and leaped in hundreds upon my
person. The measured movement of the pendulum disturbed them not at all. Avoiding its strokes, they
busied themselves with the annointed bandage. They pressed, they swarmed upon me in ever
accumulating heaps. They writhed upon my throat; their cold lips sought my own; I was half stifled by
their thronging pressure; disgust, for which the world has no name, swelled my bosom, and chilled with
heavy clamminess my heart. Yet one minute and I felt that the struggle would be over. Plainly I perceived
the loosening of the bandage. I knew that in more than one place it must be already severed. With a more
than human resolution I lay STILL.
Nor had I erred in my calculations, nor had I endured in vain. I at length felt that I was FREE. The
surcingle hung in ribands from my body. But the stroke of the pendulum already pressed upon my bosom.
It had divided the serge of the robe. It had cut through the linen beneath. Twice again it swung, and a
sharp sense of pain shot through every nerve. But the moment of escape had arrived. At a wave of my
hand my deliverers hurried tumultously away. With a steady movement, cautious, sidelong, shrinking,
and slow, I slid from the embrace of the bandage and beyond the reach of the scimitar. For the moment, at
least I WAS FREE.
Free! and in the grasp of the Inquisition! I had scarcely stepped from my wooden bed of horror upon the
stone floor of the prison, when the motion of the hellish machine ceased and I beheld it drawn up by some
invisible force through the ceiling. This was a lesson which I took desperately to heart. My every motion
was undoubtedly watched. Free! I had but escaped death in one form of agony to be delivered unto worse
than death in some other. With that thought I rolled my eyes nervously around on the barriers of iron that
hemmed me in. Something unusual -- some change which at first I could not appreciate distinctly -- it was
obvious had taken place in the apartment. For many minutes of a dreamy and trembling abstraction I
busied myself in vain, unconnected conjecture. During this period I became aware, for the first time, of
the origin of the sulphurous light which illumined the cell. It proceeded from a fissure about half-an-inch
in width extending entirely around the prison at the base of the walls which thus appeared, and were
completely separated from the floor. I endeavoured, but of course in vain, to look through the aperture.
As I arose from the attempt, the mystery of the alteration in the chamber broke at once upon my
understanding. I have observed that although the outlines of the figures upon the walls were sufficiently
distinct, yet the colours seemed blurred and indefinite . These colours had now assumed, and were
momentarily assuming, a startling and most intense brilliancy, that give to the spectral and fiendish
portraitures an aspect that might have thrilled even firmer nerves than my own. Demon eyes, of a wild
and ghastly vivacity, glared upon me in a thousand directions where none had been visible before, and
gleamed with the lurid lustre of a fire that I could not force my imagination to regard as unreal.
UNREAL! -- Even while I breathed there came to my nostrils the breath of the vapour of heated iron! A
suffocating odour pervaded the prison! A deeper glow settled each moment in the eyes that glared at my
agonies! A richer tint of crimson diffused itself over the pictured horrors of blood. I panted ' I gasped for
breath! There could be no doubt of the design of my tormentors -- oh most unrelenting! oh, most
demoniac of men! I shrank from the glowing metal to the centre of the cell. Amid the thought of the fiery
destruction that impended, the idea of the coolness of the well came over my soul like balm. I rushed to
its deadly brink. I threw my straining vision below. The glare from the enkindled roof illumined its
inmost recesses. Yet, for a wild moment, did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw.
At length it forced -- it wrestled its way into my soul -- it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. O
for a voice to speak! -- oh, horror! -- oh, any horror but this! With a shriek I rushed from the margin and
buried my face in my hands -- weeping bitterly.
The heat rapidly increased, and once again I looked up, shuddering as if with a fit of the ague. There had
been a second change in the cell -- and now the change was obviously in the FORM. As before , it was in
vain that I at first endeavoured to appreciate or understand what was taking place. But not long was I left
in doubt. The inquisitorial vengeance had been hurried by my two-fold escape, and there was to be no
more dallying with the King of Terrors. The room had been square. I saw that two of its iron angles were
now acute -- two consequently, obtuse. The fearful difference quickly increased with a low rumbling or
moaning sound. In an instant the apartment had shifted its form into that of a lozenge. But the alteration
stopped not here -- I neither hoped nor desired it to stop. I could have clasped the red walls to my bosom
as a garment of eternal peace. "Death," I said "any death but that of the pit!" Fool! might I not have
known that INTO THE PIT it was the object of the burning iron to urge me? Could I resist its glow? or if
even that, could I withstand its pressure ? And now, flatter and flatter grew the lozenge, with a rapidity
that left me no time for contempla- tion. Its centre, and of course, its greatest width, came just over the
yawning gulf. I shrank back -- but the closing walls pressed me resistlessly onward . At length for my
seared and writhing body there was no longer an inch of foothold on the firm floor of the prison. I
struggled no more, but the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair. I
felt that I tottered upon the brink -- I averted my eyes -120
There was a discordant hum of human voices! There was a loud blast as of many trumpets! There was a
harsh grating as of a thousand thunders! The fiery walls rushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own
as I fell fainting into the abyss. It was that of General Lasalle. The French army had entered Toledo. The
Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.
The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door –
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is and nothing more."
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you" – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" –
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
'Tis the wind and nothing more!"
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore."
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never – nevermore.'"
But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting –
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!
THE BLACK CAT – Edgar Allan Poe
FOR the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor
solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own
evidence. Yet, mad am I not — and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would
unburden my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without
comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified — have
tortured — have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little
but Horror — to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may
be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place — some intellect more calm, more
logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe,
nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.
From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was
even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was
indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so
happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and, in my
manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an
affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the
intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of
a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship
and gossamer fidelity of mere Man. [page 282:]
I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own. Observing
my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We
had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.
This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing
degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition,
made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise.
Not that she was ever serious upon this point — and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than
that it happens, just now, to be remembered.
Pluto — this was the cat’s name — was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended
me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following
me through the streets.
Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and
character — through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance — had (I blush to confess it)
experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more
regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I
even offered her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I
not only neglected, but ill-used them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me
from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when
by accident, or through affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me — for what
disease is like Alcohol! — and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently
somewhat peevish — even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.
One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat
avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon
my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, ginnurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it,
grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I
shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.
When reason returned with the morning — when I had slept off the fumes of the night’s debauch — I
experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it
was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess,
and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.
In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful
appearance, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might
be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first
grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon
gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of
PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives,
than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart — one of the indivisible
primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred
times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he
should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is
Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final
overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself — to offer violence to its own nature
— to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only — that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the
injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its
neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; — hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the
bitterest remorse at my heart; — hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had
given me no reason of offence; — hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin — a
deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it — if such a thing were possible —
even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.
On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire.
The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my
wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. The destruction was complete. My
entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.
I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and
the atrocity. But I am detailing a chain of facts — and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect.
On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This
exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house,
and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the
action of the fire — a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense
crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with very
minute and eager attention. The words “strange!” “singular!” and other similar expressions, excited my
curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in bas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic
cat. The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal’s
When I first beheld this apparition — for I could scarcely regard it as less — my wonder and my terror
were extreme. But at length reflection came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden
adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd — by
some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window,
into my chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of
other walls had compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the
lime of which, with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, had then accomplished the portraiture
as I saw it.
Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my conscience, for the startling fact
just detailed, it did not the less fail to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid
myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment
that seemed, but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me,
among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and of
somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place.
One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some
black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which
constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for
some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object
thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat — a very large one — fully as
large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any
portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the
whole region of the breast.
Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared
delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to
purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it — knew nothing of it — had never seen it
I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal evinced a disposition to accompany
me. I permitted it to do so; occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached the house
it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.
For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This was just the reverse of what I had
anticipated; but — I know not how or why it was — its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and
annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of hatred. I
avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty,
preventing me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or otherwise violently ill use
it; but gradually — very gradually — I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently
from its odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.
What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on the morning after I brought it
home, that, like Pluto, it also had been deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only
endeared it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling
which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.
With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to increase. It followed my
footsteps with a pertinacity which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it
would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I
arose to walk it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and
sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although I longed to
destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly by a memory of my former crime, but
chiefly — let me confess it at once — by absolute dread of the beast.
This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil — and yet I should be at a loss how otherwise to
define it. I am almost ashamed to own — yes, even in this felon’s cell, I am almost ashamed to own —
that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one of the merest
chimæras it would be possible to conceive. My wife had called my attention, more than once, to the
character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole visible
difference between the strange beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this
mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees —degrees nearly
imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful — it had, at length,
assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to
name — and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I
dared — it was now, I say, the image of a hideous — of a ghastly thing — of the GALLOWS! — oh,
mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime — of Agony and of Death!
And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity. And a brute beast — whose
fellow I had contemptuously destroyed — a brute beast to work out for me — for me a man, fashioned in
the image of the High God — so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor by night knew I the
blessing of Rest any more! During the former the creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I
started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its
vast weight — an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off — incumbent eternally upon my
Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed.
Evil thoughts became my sole intimates — the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my
usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and
ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas!
was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.
One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our
poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me
headlong, exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread
which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved
instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded,
by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the
axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.
This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with entire deliberation, to the task of
concealing the body. I knew that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without
the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects entered my mind. At one period I thought of
cutting the corpse into minute fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig a
grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated about casting it in the well in the yard — about
packing it in a box, as if merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a porter to take it from
the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to
wall it up in the cellar — as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims.
For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were loosely constructed, and had lately
been plastered throughout with a rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented
from hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by a false chimney, or fireplace,
that had been filled up, and made to resemble the rest of the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily
displace the bricks at this point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole up as before, so that no eye could
detect any thing suspicious.
And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily dislodged the bricks, and,
having carefully deposited the body against the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little
trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with
every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster which could not be distinguished from the old, and with
this I very carefully went over the new brick-work. When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right.
The wall did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on the floor was
picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, and said to myself — “Here at least, then,
my labor has not been in vain.”
My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much wretchedness; for I had, at
length, firmly resolved to put it to death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the [page 289:] moment, there
could have been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that the crafty animal had been alarmed at the
violence of my previous anger, and forebore to present itself in my present mood. It is impossible to
describe, or to imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief which the absence of the detested creature
occasioned in my bosom. It did not make its appearance during the night — and thus for one night at
least, since its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden
of murder upon my soul!
The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not. Once again I breathed as a
freeman. The monster, in terror, had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness
was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been made, but
these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted — but of course nothing was to be
discovered. I looked upon my future felicity as secured.
Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came, very unexpectedly, into the house,
and proceeded again to make rigorous investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability
of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers bade me accompany them in
their search. They left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they
descended into the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in
innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to
and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong
to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their
assurance of my guiltlessness.
“Gentlemen,” I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, “I delight to have allayed your suspicions. I
wish you all health, and a little more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this — this is a very well
constructed house.” [In the rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.] —
“I may say an excellently well constructed house. These walls — are you going, gentlemen? — these
walls are solidly put together;” and here, through the mere phrenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily, with a
cane which I held in my hand, upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of
the wife of my bosom.
But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend! No sooner had the reverberation of
my blows sunk into silence, than I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! — by a cry, at first
muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and
continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman — a howl — a wailing shriek, half of horror and half
of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the dammed in their
agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.
Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instant the
party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen
stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with
gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary
eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had
consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!
The Tell-Tale Heart --Edgar Allan Poe
TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad?
The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing
acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad?
Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and
night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He
had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his
eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood
ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus
rid myself of the eye for ever.
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You
should have seen how wisely I proceeded -- with what caution -- with what foresight, with what
dissimulation, I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I
killed him. And every night about midnight I turned the latch of his door and opened it oh, so gently! And
then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern all closed, closed so that
no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I
thrust it in! I moved it slowly, very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me
an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!
would a madman have been so wise as this? And then when my head was well in the room I undid the
lantern cautiously -- oh, so cautiously -- cautiously (for the hinges creaked), I undid it just so much that a
single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights, every night just at midnight,
but I found the eye always closed, and so it was impossible to do the work, for it was not the old man who
vexed me but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber and
spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the
night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed , to suspect that every night, just
at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch's minute hand
moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers, of my
sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was opening the door little
by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea, and
perhaps he heard me, for he moved on the bed suddenly as if startled. Now you may think that I drew
back -- but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness (for the shutters were close
fastened through fear of robbers), and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept
pushing it on steadily, steadily.
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening , and
the old man sprang up in the bed, crying out, "Who's there?"
I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did
not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; just as I have done night after night
hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
Presently, I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or
of grief -- oh, no! It was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged
with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up
from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well.
I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying
awake ever since the first slight noise when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since
growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to
himself, "It is nothing but the wind in the chimney, it is only a mouse crossing the floor," or, "It is merely
a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes he has been trying to comfort himself with these
suppositions ; but he had found all in vain. ALL IN VAIN, because Death in approaching him had stalked
with his black shadow before him and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the
unperceived shadow that caused him to feel, although he neither saw nor heard, to feel the presence of my
head within the room.
When I had waited a long time very patiently without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little -- a
very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it -- you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily -until at length a single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from the crevice and fell upon the
vulture eye.
It was open, wide, wide open, and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness -- all
a dull blue with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones, but I could see nothing
else of the old man's face or person, for I had directed the ray as if by instinct precisely upon the damned
And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? now,
I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I
knew that sound well too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury as the beating of
a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how
steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew
quicker and quicker, and louder and louder, every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme!
It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! -- do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so
I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a
noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still.
But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me -the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open
the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once -- once only. In an instant I dragged him to the
floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But for many
minutes the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard
through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse.
Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was
no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the
concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence.
I took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then
replaced the boards so cleverly so cunningly, that no human eye -- not even his -- could have detected
anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out -- no stain of any kind -- no blood-spot whatever. I had
been too wary for that.
When I had made an end of these labours, it was four o'clock -- still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded
the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, -- for what
had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers
of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been
aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to
search the premises.
I smiled, -- for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a
dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade
them search -- search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure,
undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to
rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat
upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.
The officers were satisfied. My MANNER had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat and
while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and
wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears; but still they sat, and still chatted.
The ringing became more distinct : I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and
gained definitiveness -- until, at length, I found that the noise was NOT within my ears.
No doubt I now grew VERY pale; but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound
increased -- and what could I do? It was A LOW, DULL, QUICK SOUND -- MUCH SUCH A SOUND
AS A WATCH MAKES WHEN ENVELOPED IN COTTON. I gasped for breath, and yet the officers
heard it not. I talked more quickly, more vehemently but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued
about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why WOULD
they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations
of the men, but the noise steadily increased. O God! what COULD I do? I foamed -- I raved -- I swore! I
swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all
and continually increased. It grew louder -- louder -- louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly , and
smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! -- no, no? They heard! -- they suspected! -- they
KNEW! -- they were making a mockery of my horror! -- this I thought, and this I think. But anything was
better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical
smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -- and now -- again -- hark! louder! louder! louder!
LOUDER! -"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! -- here, here! -- it is the
beating of his hideous heart!"
A Dream Within a Dream –Edgar Allan Poe
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avowYou are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sandHow few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
Photo from : Yellin, Jean Fagan. Harriet Jacobs: a Life. New York: Basic Civitas, 2004. Print.
Reward Posted for the Return of Harriet under the “Fugitive Slave Act”
from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl –Harriet Jacobs
I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away.
So begins Harriet Jacob’s narrative of her life as a slave in North Carolina, of her rebellion against a
cruel and debauched master; and of her eventual escape to the free states of the North. In her first years
of her childhood she lived with her parents, but when she was six her mother died and Harriet was taken
from her home and sent to work in the household of the white family that had owned her mother.
Harriet’s new mistress treated her well, taught her to read and sell, and trained her to be a seamstress.
Bust six years later her mistress died, and twelve year old Harriet was willed to the young daughter of a
local physician. It was there in the house of the man she called Dr. Flint in her narrative, that the
terrifying experiences began that almost overwhelmed her. Whit daily threats and entreaties, her new
master sought to seduce her, to establish her in a separate house, away from the eyes of his jealous wife,
where Harriet would attend him as his mistress, his concubine.
She was a slave, the daughter of slaves, with almost no legal rights. She was protected neither by the
social customs of the slave society in which she lived nor by a system of laws what considered her to be
not a human with inalienable rights but a piece of property. No law protected her from her master’s fury.
No appeal to decency would subdue his lust. She had little to rely upon but her own guile and
Because she was forbidden to marry, and to thwart her white master’s continual attempts to subdue her,
Harriet Jacobs became the mistress of another white man, a respected citizen of the town, and by him had
two children. And she began to plot her own escape…
When Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was first published, many readers expressed doubts of its
authenticity. It seemed the product of a formally educated mind…
I. Childhood
I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away. My father was a
carpenter, and considered so intelligent and skilful in his trade, that, when buildings out of the common
line were to be erected, he was sent for from long distances, to be head workman. On condition of paying
his mistress two hundred dollars a year, and supporting himself, he was allowed to work at his trade, and
manage his own affairs. His strongest wish was to purchase his children; but, though he several times
offered his hard earnings for that purpose, he never succeeded. In complexion my parents were a light
shade of brownish yellow, and were termed mulattoes. They lived together in a comfortable home; and,
though we were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise,
trusted to them for safe keeping, and liable to be demanded of them at any moment. I had one brother,
William, who was two years younger than myself--a bright, affectionate child. I had also a great treasure
in my maternal grandmother, who was a remarkable woman in many respects. She was the daughter of a
planter in South Carolina, who, at his death, left her mother and his three children free, with money to go
to St. Augustine, where they had relatives. It was during the Revolutionary War; and they were captured
on their passage, carried back, and sold to different purchasers. Such was the story my grandmother used
to tell me; but I do not remember all the particulars. She was a little girl when she was captured and sold
to the keeper of a large hotel. I have often heard her tell how hard she fared during childhood. But as she
grew older she evinced so much intelligence, and was so faithful, that her master and mistress could not
help seeing it was for their interest to take care of such a valuable piece of property. She became an
indispensable personage in the household, officiating in all capacities, from cook and wet nurse to
seamstress. She was much praised for her cooking; and her nice crackers became so famous in the
neighborhood that many people were desirous of obtaining them. In consequence of numerous requests of
this kind, she asked permission of her mistress to bake crackers at night, after all the household work was
done; and she obtained leave to do it, provided she would clothe herself and her children from the profits.
Upon these terms, after working hard all day for her mistress, she began her midnight bakings, assisted by
her two oldest children. The business proved profitable; and each year she laid by a little, which was
saved for a fund to purchase her children. Her master died, and the property was divided among his heirs.
The widow had her dower in the hotel which she continued to keep open. My grandmother remained in
her service as a slave; but her children were divided among her master's children. As she had five,
Benjamin, the youngest one, was sold, in order that each heir might have an equal portion of dollars and
cents. There was so little difference in our ages that he seemed more like my brother than my uncle. He
was a bright, handsome lad, nearly white; for he inherited the complexion my grandmother had derived
from Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Though only ten years old, seven hundred and twenty dollars were paid for
him. His sale was a terrible blow to my grandmother, but she was naturally hopeful, and she went to work
with renewed energy, trusting in time to be able to purchase some of her children. She had laid up three
hundred dollars, which her mistress one day begged as a loan, promising to pay her soon. The reader
probably knows that no promise or writing given to a slave is legally binding; for, according to Southern
laws, a slave, being property, can hold no property. When my grandmother lent her hard earnings to her
mistress, she trusted solely to her honor. The honor of a slaveholder to a slave!
To this good grandmother I was indebted for many comforts. My brother Willie and I often received
portions of the crackers, cakes, and preserves, she made to sell; and after we ceased to be children we
were indebted to her for many more important services.
Such were the unusually fortunate circumstances of my early childhood. When I was six years old, my
mother died; and then, for the first time, I learned, by the talk around me, that I was a slave. My mother's
mistress was the daughter of my grandmother's mistress. She was the foster sister of my mother; they
were both nourished at my grandmother's breast. In fact, my mother had been weaned at three months old,
that the babe of the mistress might obtain sufficient food. They played together as children; and, when
they became women, my mother was a most faithful servant to her whiter foster sister. On her death-bed
her mistress promised that her children should never suffer for any thing; and during her lifetime she kept
her word. They all spoke kindly of my dead mother, who had been a slave merely in name, but in nature
was noble and womanly. I grieved for her, and my young mind was troubled with the thought who would
now take care of me and my little brother. I was told that my home was now to be with her mistress; and I
found it a happy one. No toilsome or disagreeable duties were imposed on me. My mistress was so kind
to me that I was always glad to do her bidding, and proud to labor for her as much as my young years
would permit. I would sit by her side for hours, sewing diligently, with a heart as free from care as that of
any free-born white child. When she thought I was tired, she would send me out to run and jump; and
away I bounded, to gather berries or flowers to decorate her room. Those were happy days--too happy to
last. The slave child had no thought for the morrow; but there came that blight, which too surely waits on
every human being born to be a chattel.
When I was nearly twelve years old, my kind mistress sickened and died. As I saw the cheek grow paler,
and the eye more glassy, how earnestly I prayed in my heart that she might live! I loved her; for she had
been almost like a mother to me. My prayers were not answered. She died, and they buried her in the little
churchyard, where, day after day, my tears fell upon her grave.
I was sent to spend a week with my grandmother. I was now old enough to begin to think of the future;
and again and again I asked myself what they would do with me. I felt sure I should never find another
mistress so kind as the one who was gone. She had promised my dying mother that her children should
never suffer for any thing; and when I remembered that, and recalled her many proofs of attachment to
me, I could not help having some hopes that she had left me free. My friends were almost certain it would
be so. They thought she would be sure to do it, on account of my mother's love and faithful service. But,
alas! we all know that the memory of a faithful slave does not avail much to save her children from the
auction block.
After a brief period of suspense, the will of my mistress was read, and we learned that she had bequeathed
me to her sister's daughter, a child of five years old. So vanished our hopes. My mistress had taught me
the precepts of God's Word: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." "Whatsoever ye would that men
should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize
me as her neighbor. I would give much to blot out from my memory that one great wrong. As a child, I
loved my mistress; and, looking back on the happy days I spent with her, I try to think with less bitterness
of this act of injustice. While I was with her, she taught me to read and spell; and for this privilege, which
so rarely falls to the lot of a slave, I bless her memory.
She possessed but few slaves; and at her death those were all distributed among her relatives. Five of
them were my grandmother's children, and had shared the same milk that nourished her mother's children.
Notwithstanding my grandmother's long and faithful service to her owners, not one of her children
escaped the auction block. These God-breathing machines are no more, in the sight of their masters, than
the cotton they plant, or the horses they tend.
V. The Trials of Girlhood
During the first years of my service in Dr. Flint's family, I was accustomed to share some indulgences
with the children of my mistress. Though this seemed to me no more than right, I was grateful for it, and
tried to merit the kindness by the faithful discharge of my duties. But I now entered on my fifteenth year-140
a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl. My master began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I
could not remain ignorant of their import. I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt. The master's
age, my extreme youth, and the fear that his conduct would be reported to my grandmother, made him
bear this treatment for many months. He was a crafty man, and resorted to many means to accomplish his
purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways, that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed
a gentleness that he thought must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods, although they
left me trembling. He tried his utmost to corrupt the pure principles my grandmother had instilled. He
peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of. I turned from
him with disgust and hatred. But he was my master. I was compelled to live under the same roof with
him--where I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of nature.
He told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted against the
mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter whether the slave girl be as black as
ebony or as fair as her mistress. In either case, there is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, from
violence, or even from death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the shape of men. The mistress,
who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage.
The degradation, the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can describe. They are
greater than you would willingly believe. Surely, if you credited one half the truths that are told you
concerning the helpless millions suffering in this cruel bondage, you at the north would not help to tighten
the yoke. You surely would refuse to do for the master, on your own soil, the mean and cruel work which
trained bloodhounds and the lowest class of whites do for him at the south.
Every where the years bring to all enough of sin and sorrow; but in slavery the very dawn of life is
darkened by these shadows. Even the little child, who is accustomed to wait on her mistress and her
children, will learn, before she is twelve years old, why it is that her mistress hates such and such a one
among the slaves. Perhaps the child's own mother is among those hated ones. She listens to violent
outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot help understanding what is the cause. She will become
prematurely knowing in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master's footfall.
She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child. If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will
prove her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the
degradation of the female slave. I know that some are too much brutalized by slavery to feel the
humiliation of their position; but many slaves feel it most acutely, and shrink from the memory of it. I
cannot tell how much I suffered in the presence of these wrongs, nor how I am still pained by the
retrospect. My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by
heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a
day of unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mother's grave, his dark shadow fell on
me even there. The light heart which nature had given me became heavy with sad forebodings. The other
slaves in my master's house noticed the change. Many of them pitied me; but none dared to ask the cause.
They had no need to inquire. They knew too well the guilty practices under that roof; and they were aware
that to speak of them was an offence that never went unpunished.
I longed for some one to confide in. I would have given the world to have laid my head on my
grandmother's faithful bosom, and told her all my troubles. But Dr. Flint swore he would kill me, if I was
not as silent as the grave. Then, although my grandmother was all in all to me, I feared her as well as
loved her. I had been accustomed to look up to her with a respect bordering upon awe. I was very young,
and felt shamefaced about telling her such impure things, especially as I knew her to be very strict on
such subjects. Moreover, she was a woman of a high spirit. She was usually very quiet in her demeanor;
but if her indignation was once roused, it was not very easily quelled. I had been told that she once chased
a white gentleman with a loaded pistol, because he insulted one of her daughters. I dreaded the
consequences of a violent outbreak; and both pride and fear kept me silent. But though I did not confide
in my grandmother, and even evaded her vigilant watchfulness and inquiry, her presence in the
neighborhood was some protection to me. Though she had been a slave, Dr. Flint was afraid of her. He
dreaded her scorching rebukes. Moreover, she was known and patronized by many people; and he did not
wish to have his villany made public. It was lucky for me that I did not live on a distant plantation, but in
a town not so large that the inhabitants were ignorant of each other's affairs. Bad as are the laws and
customs in a slaveholding community, the doctor, as a professional man, deemed it prudent to keep up
some outward show of decency.
O, what days and nights of fear and sorrow that man caused me! Reader, it is not to awaken sympathy for
myself that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered in slavery. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in
your hearts for my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I once suffered.
I once saw two beautiful children playing together. One was a fair white child; the other was her slave,
and also her sister. When I saw them embracing each other, and heard their joyous laughter, I turned sadly
away from the lovely sight. I foresaw the inevitable blight that would fall on the little slave's heart. I knew
how soon her laughter would be changed to sighs. The fair child grew up to be a still fairer woman. From
childhood to womanhood her pathway was blooming with flowers, and overarched by a sunny sky.
Scarcely one day of her life had been clouded when the sun rose on her happy bridal morning.
How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of her childhood? She, also, was very
beautiful; but the flowers and sunshine of love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and
misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink.
In view of these things, why are ye silent, ye free men and women of the north? Why do your tongues
falter in maintenance of the right? Would that I had more ability! But my heart is so full, and my pen is so
weak! There are noble men and women who plead for us, striving to help those who cannot help
themselves. God bless them! God give them strength and courage to go on! God bless those, every where,
who are laboring to advance the cause of humanity!
VI. The Jealous Mistress
I WOULD ten thousand times rather that my children should be the half-starved paupers of
Ireland than to be the most pampered among the slaves of America. I would rather drudge out
my life on a cotton plantation, till the grave opened to give me rest, than to live with an
unprincipled master and a jealous mistress. The felon's home in a penitentiary is preferable. He
may repent, and turn from the error of his ways, and so find peace; but it is not so with a favorite
slave. She is not allowed to have any pride of character. It is deemed a crime in her to wish to be
Mrs. Flint possessed the key to her husband's character before I was born. She might have
used this knowledge to counsel and to screen the young and the innocent among her slaves; but
for them she had no sympathy. They were the objects of her constant suspicion and malevolence.
She watched her husband with unceasing vigilance; but he was well practiced in means to evade
it. What he could not find opportunity to say in words he manifested in signs. He invented more
than were ever thought of in a deaf and dumb asylum. I let them pass, as if I did not understand
what he meant; and many were the curses and threats bestowed on me for my stupidity. One day
he caught me teaching myself to write. He frowned, as if he was not well pleased, but I suppose
he came to the conclusion that such an accomplishment might help to advance his favorite scheme.
Before long, notes were often slipped into my hand. I would return them, saying, "I can't read them, sir."
"Can't you?" he replied; "then I must read them to you." He always finished the reading by asking, "Do
you understand?" Sometimes he would complain of the heat of the tea room, and order his supper to be
placed on a small table in the piazza. He would seat himself there with a well-satisfied smile, and tell me
to stand by and brush away the flies. He would eat very slowly, pausing between the mouthfuls. These
intervals were employed in describing the happiness I was so foolishly throwing away, and in threatening
me with the penalty that finally awaited my stubborn disobedience. He boasted much of the forbearance
he had exercised towards me, and reminded me that there was a limit to his patience. When I succeeded in
avoiding opportunities for him to talk to me at home, I was ordered to come to his office, to do some
errand. When there, I was obliged to stand and listen to such language as he saw fit to address to me.
Sometimes I so openly expressed my contempt for him that he would become violently enraged, and I
wondered why he did not strike me. Circumstanced as he was, he probably thought it was better policy to
be forbearing. But the state of things grew worse and worse daily. In desperation I told him that I must
and would apply to my grandmother for protection. He threatened me with death, and worse than death, if
I made any complaint to her. Strange to say, I did not despair. I was naturally of a buoyant disposition,
and always I had hope of somehow getting out of his clutches. Like many a poor, simple slave before me,
I trusted that some threads of joy would yet be woven into my dark destiny.
I had entered my sixteenth year, and every day it became more apparent that my presence
was intolerable to Mrs. Flint. Angry words frequently passed between her and her husband. He
had never punished me himself, and he would not allow any body else to punish me. In that
respect, she was never satisfied; but, in her angry moods, no terms were too vile for her to
bestow upon me. Yet I, whom she detested so bitterly, had far more pity for her than he had,
whose duty it was to make her life happy. I never wronged her, or wished to wrong her; and one
word of kindness from her would have brought me to her feet.
After repeated quarrels between the doctor and his wife, he announced his intention to take
his youngest daughter, then four years old, to sleep in his apartment. It was necessary that a
servant should sleep in the same room, to be on hand if the child stirred. I was selected for that
office, and informed for what purpose that arrangement had been made. By managing to keep
within sight of people, as much as possible during the day time, I had hitherto succeeded in
eluding my master, though a razor was often held to my throat to force me to change this line of
policy. At night I slept by the side of my great aunt, where I felt safe. He was too prudent to
come into her room. She was an old woman, and had been in the family many years. Moreover,
as a married man, and a professional man, he deemed it necessary to save appearances in some
degree. But he resolved to remove the obstacle in the way of his scheme; and he thought he had
planned it so that he should evade suspicion. He was well aware how much I prized my refuge
by the side of my old aunt, and he determined to dispossess me of it. The first night the doctor
had the little child in his room alone. The next morning, I was ordered to take my station as nurse
the following night. A kind Providence interposed in my favor. During the day Mrs. Flint heard
of this new arrangement, and a storm followed. I rejoiced to hear it rage.
After a while my mistress sent for me to come to her room. Her first question was, "Did you
know you were to sleep in the doctor's room?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Who told you?"
"My master."
"Will you answer truly all the questions I ask?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Tell me, then, as you hope to be forgiven, are you innocent of what I have accused you?"
"I am."
She handed me a Bible, and said, "Lay your hand on your heart, kiss this holy book, and
swear before God that you tell me the truth."
I took the oath she required, and I did it with a clear conscience.
"You have taken God's holy word to testify your innocence," said she. "If you have
deceived me, beware! Now take this stool, sit down, look me directly in the face, and tell me all
that has passed between your master and you."
I did as she ordered. As I went on with my account her color changed frequently, she wept,
and sometimes groaned. She spoke in tones so sad, that I was touched by her grief. The tears
came to my eyes; but I was soon convinced that her emotions arose from anger and wounded
pride. She felt that her marriage vows were desecrated, her dignity insulted, but she had no
compassion for the poor victim of her husband's perfidy. She pitied herself as a martyr; but she
was incapable of feeling for the condition of shame and misery in which her unfortunate,
helpless slave was placed.
Yet perhaps she had some touch of feeling for me; for when the conference was ended, she
spoke kindly, and promised to protect me. I should have been much comforted by this assurance
if I could have had confidence in it; but my experiences in slavery had filled me with distrust.
She was not a very refined woman, and had not much control over her passions. I was an object
of her jealousy, and, consequently, of her hatred; and I knew I could not expect kindness or
confidence from her under the circumstances in which I was placed. I could not blame her.
Slave-holders' wives feel as other women would under similar circumstances. The fire of her
temper kindled from small sparks, and now the flame became so intense that the doctor was
obliged to give up his intended arrangement.
I knew I had ignited the torch, and I expected to suffer for it afterwards; but I felt too
thankful to my mistress for the timely aid she rendered me to care much about that. She now
took me to sleep in a oom adjoining her own. There I was an object of her especial care, though
not of her especial comfort, for she spent many a sleepless night to watch over me. Sometimes I
woke up, and found her bending over me. At other times she whispered in my ear, as though it
was her husband who was speaking to me, and listened to hear what I would answer. If she
startled me, on such occasions, she would glide stealthily away; and the next morning she would
tell me I had been talking in my sleep, and ask who I was talking to. At last, I began to be fearful
for my life. It had been often threatened; and you can imagine, better than I can describe, what an
unpleasant sensation it must produce to wake up in the dead of night and find a jealous woman
bending over you. Terrible as this experience was, I had fears that it would give place to one
more terrible.
My mistress grew weary of her vigils; they did not prove satisfactory. She changed her
tactics. She now tried the trick of accusing my master of crime, in my presence, and gave my
name as the author of the accusation. To my utter astonishment, he replied, "I don't believe it; but
if she did acknowledge it, you tortured her into exposing me." Tortured into exposing him!
Truly, Satan had no difficulty in distinguishing the color of his soul! I understood his object in
making this false representation. It was to show me that I gained nothing by seeking the
protection of my mistress; that the power was still all in his own hands. I pitied Mrs. Flint. She
was a second wife, many years the junior of her husband; and the hoary-headed miscreant was
enough to try the patience of a wiser and better woman. She was completely foiled, and knew not
how to proceed. She would gladly have had me flogged for my supposed false oath; but, as I
have already stated, the doctor never allowed any one to whip me. The old sinner was politic.
The application of the lash might have led to remarks that would have exposed him in the eyes of
his children and grandchildren. How often did I rejoice that I lived in a town where all the
inhabitants knew each other! If I had been on a remote plantation, or lost among the multitude of
a crowded city, I should not be a living woman at this day.
The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the Inquisition. My master was, to my
knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of
their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves?
No, indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences.
My grandmother could not avoid seeing things which excited her suspicions. She was
uneasy about me, and tried various ways to buy me; but the never-changing answer was always
repeated: "Linda does not belong to me. She is my daughter's property, and I have no legal right
to sell her." The conscientious man! He was too scrupulous to sell me; but he had no scruples
whatever about committing a much greater wrong against the helpless young girl placed under
his guardianship, as his daughter's property. Sometimes my persecutor would ask me whether I
would like to be sold. I told him I would rather be sold to any body than to lead such a life as I
did. On such occasions he would assume the air of a very injured individual, and reproach me for
my ingratitude. "Did I not take you into the house, and make you the companion of my own
children?" he would say. "Have I ever treated you like a negro? I have never allowed you to be
punished, not even to please your mistress. And this is the recompense I get, you ungrateful
girl!" I answered that he had reasons of his own for screening me from punishment, and that the
course he pursued made my mistress hate me and persecute me. If I wept, he would say, "Poor
child! Don't cry! don't cry! I will make peace for you with your mistress. Only let me arrange
matters in my own way. Poor, foolish girl! you don't know what is for your own good. I would
cherish you. I would make a lady of you. Now go, and think of all I have promised you."
I did think of it.
Reader, I draw no imaginary pictures of southern homes. I am telling you the plain truth.
Yet when victims make their escape from this wild beast of Slavery, northerners consent to act
the part of bloodhounds, and hunt the poor fugitive back into his den, "full of dead men's bones,
and all uncleanness." Nay, more, they are not only willing, but proud, to give their daughters in
marriage to slaveholders. The poor girls have romantic notions of a sunny clime, and of the
flowering vines that all the year round shade a happy home. To what disappointments are they
destined! The young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed her
happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows. Children of every shade of complexion play with
her own fair babies, and too well she knows that they are born unto him of his own household.
Jealousy and hatred enter the flowery home, and it is ravaged of its loveliness.
Southern women often marry a man knowing that he is the father of many little slaves. They
do not trouble themselves about it. They regard such children as property, as marketable as the
pigs on the plantation; and it is seldom that they do not make them aware of this by passing them
into the slave-trader's hands as soon as possible, and thus getting them out of their sight. I am
glad to say there are some honorable exceptions.
I have myself known two southern wives who exhorted their husbands to free those slaves
towards whom they stood in a "parental relation;" and their request was granted. These husbands
blushed before the superior nobleness of their wives' natures. Though they had only counselled
them to do that which it was their duty to do, it commanded their respect, and rendered their
conduct more exemplary. Concealment was at an end, and confidence took the place of distrust.
Though this bad institution deadens the moral sense, even in white women, to a fearful
extent, it is not altogether extinct. I have heard southern ladies say of Mr. Such a one, "He not
only thinks it no disgrace to be the father of those little niggers, but he is not ashamed to call
himself their master. I declare, such things ought not to be tolerated in any decent society!"
XLI. Free at Last
MRS. BRUCE, and every member of her family, were exceedingly kind to me. I was thankful for the
blessings of my lot, yet I could not always wear a cheerful countenance. I was doing harm to no one; on
the contrary, I was doing all the good I could in my small way; yet I could never go out to breathe God's
free air without trepidation at my heart. This seemed hard; and I could not think it was a right state of
things in any civilized country.
From time to time I received news from my good old grandmother. She could not write; but she
employed others to write for her. The following is an extract from one of her last letters:—
"Dear Daughter: I cannot hope to see you again on earth; but I pray to God to unite us above, where
pain will no more rack this feeble body of mine; where sorrow and parting from my children will be no
more. God has promised these things if we are faithful unto the end. My age and feeble health deprive me
of going to church now; but God is with me here at home. Thank your brother for his kindness. Give
much love to him, and tell him to remember the Creator in the days of his youth, and strive to meet me in
the Father's kingdom. Love to Ellen and Benjamin. Don't neglect him. Tell him for me, to be a good boy.
Strive, my child, to train them for God's children. May he protect and provide for you, is the prayer of
your loving old mother."
These letters both cheered and saddened me. I was always glad to have tidings from the kind, faithful
old friend of my unhappy youth; but her messages of love made my heart yearn to see her before she died,
and I mourned over the fact that it was impossible. Some months after I returned from my flight to New
England, I received a letter from her, in which she wrote, "Dr. Flint is dead. He has left a distressed
family. Poor old man! I hope he made his peace with God."
I remembered how he had defrauded my grandmother of the hard earnings she had loaned; how he
had tried to cheat her out of the freedom her mistress had promised her, and how he had persecuted her
children; and I thought to myself that she was a better Christian than I was, if she could entirely forgive
him. I cannot say, with truth, that the news of my old master's death softened my feelings towards him.
There are wrongs which even the grave does not bury. The man was odious to me while he lived, and his
memory is odious now.
His departure from this world did not diminish my danger. He had threatened my grandmother that
his heirs should hold me in slavery after he was gone; that I never should be free so long as a child of his
survived. As for Mrs. Flint, I had seen her in deeper afflictions than I supposed the loss of her husband
would be, for she had buried several children; yet I never saw any signs of softening in her heart. The
doctor had died in embarrassed circumstances, and had little to will to his heirs, except such property as
he was unable to grasp. I was well aware what I had to expect from the family of Flints; and my fears
were confirmed by a letter from the south, warning me to be on my guard, because Mrs. Flint openly
declared that her daughter could not afford to lose so valuable a slave as I was.
I kept close watch of the newspapers for arrivals; but one Saturday night, being much occupied, I
forgot to examine the Evening Express as usual. I went down into the parlor for it, early in the morning,
and found the boy about to kindle a fire with it. I took it from him and examined the list of arrivals.
Reader, if you have never been a slave, you cannot imagine the acute sensation of suffering at my heart,
when I read the names of Mr. and Mrs. Dodge, at a hotel in Courtland Street. It was a third-rate hotel, and
that circumstance convinced me of the truth of what I had heard, that they were short of funds and had
need of my value, as they valued me; and that was by dollars and cents. I hastened with the paper to Mrs.
Bruce. Her heart and hand were always open to every one in distress, and she always warmly
sympathized with mine. It was impossible to tell how near the enemy was. He might have passed and
repassed the house while we were sleeping. He might at that moment be waiting to pounce upon me if I
ventured out of doors. I had never seen the husband of my young mistress, and therefore I could not
distinguish him from any other stranger. A carriage was hastily ordered; and, closely veiled, I followed
Mrs. Bruce, taking the baby again with me into exile. After various turnings and crossings and returnings,
the carriage stopped at the house of one of Mrs. Bruce's friends, where I was kindly received. Mrs. Bruce
returned immediately, to instruct the domestics what to say if any one came to inquire for me.
It was lucky for me that the evening paper was not burned up before I had a chance to examine the
list of arrivals. It was not long after Mrs. Bruce's return to her house, before several people came to
inquire for me. One inquired for me, another asked for my daughter Ellen, and another said he had a letter
from my grandmother, which he was requested to deliver in person.
They were told, "She has lived here, but she has left."
"How long ago?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Do you know where she went?"
"I do not, sir." And the door was closed.
This Mr. Dodge, who claimed me as his property, was originally a Yankee pedler in the south; then
he became a merchant, and finally a slaveholder. He managed to get introduced into what was called the
first society, and married Miss Emily Flint. A quarrel arose between him and her brother, and the brother
cowhided him. This led to a family feud, and he proposed to remove to Virginia. Dr. Flint left him no
property, and his own means had become circumscribed, while a wife and children depended upon him
for support. Under these circumstances, it was very natural that he should make an effort to put me into
his pocket.
I had a colored friend, a man from my native place, in whom I had the most implicit confidence. I
sent for him, and told him that Mr. and Mrs. Dodge had arrived in New York. I proposed that he should
call upon them to make inquiries about his friends at the south, with whom Dr. Flint's family were well
acquainted. He thought there was no impropriety in his doing so, and he consented. He went to the hotel,
and knocked at the door of Mr. Dodge's room, which was opened by the gentleman himself, who gruffly
inquired, "What brought you here? How came you to know I was in the city?"
"Your arrival was published in the evening papers, sir; and I called to ask Mrs. Dodge about my
friends at home. I didn't suppose it would give any offence."
"Where's that negro girl, that belongs to my wife?"
"What girl, sir?"
"You know well enough. I mean Linda, that ran away from Dr. Flint's plantation, some years ago. I
dare say you've seen her, and know where she is."
"Yes, sir, I've seen her, and know where she is. She is out of your reach, sir."
"Tell me where she is, or bring her to me, and I will give her a chance to buy her freedom."
"I don't think it would be of any use, sir. I have heard her say she would go to the ends of the earth,
rather than pay any man or woman for her freedom, because she thinks she has a right to it. Besides, she
couldn't do it, if she would, for she has spent her earnings to educate her children."
This made Mr. Dodge very angry, and some high words passed between them. My friend was afraid
to come where I was; but in the course of the day I received a note from him. I supposed they had not
come from the south, in the winter, for a pleasure excursion; and now the nature of their business was
very plain.
Mrs. Bruce came to me and entreated me to leave the city the next morning. She said her house was
watched, and it was possible that some clew to me might be obtained. I refused to take her advice. She
pleaded with an earnest tenderness, that ought to have moved me; but I was in a bitter, disheartened
mood. I was weary of flying from pillar to post. I had been chased during half my life, and it seemed as if
the chase was never to end. There I sat, in that great city, guiltless of crime, yet not daring to worship God
in any of the churches. I heard the bells ringing for afternoon service, and, with contemptuous sarcasm, I
said, "Will the preachers take for their text, 'Proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of prison
doors to them that are bound'? or will they preach from the text, 'Do unto others as ye would they should
do unto you'?" Oppressed Poles and Hungarians could find a safe refuge in that city; John Mitchell was
free to proclaim in the City Hall his desire for "a plantation well stocked with slaves;" but there I sat, an
oppressed American, not daring to show my face. God forgive the black and bitter thoughts I indulged on
that Sabbath day! The Scripture says, "Oppression makes even a wise man mad;" and I was not wise.
I had been told that Mr. Dodge said his wife had never signed away her right to my children, and if
he could not get me, he would take them. This it was, more than any thing else, that roused such a tempest
in my soul. Benjamin was with his uncle William in California, but my innocent young daughter had
come to spend a vacation with me. I thought of what I had suffered in slavery at her age, and my heart
was like a tiger's when a hunter tries to seize her young.
Dear Mrs. Bruce! I seem to see the expression of her face, as she turned away discouraged by my
obstinate mood. Finding her expostulations unavailing, she sent Ellen to entreat me. When ten o'clock in
the evening arrived and Ellen had not returned, this watchful and unwearied friend became anxious. She
came to us in a carriage, bringing a well-filled trunk for my journey—trusting that by this time I would
listen to reason. I yielded to her, as I ought to have done before.
The next day, baby and I set out in a heavy snow storm, bound for New England again. I received
letters from the City of Iniquity, addressed to me under an assumed name. In a few days one came from
Mrs. Bruce, informing me that my new master was still searching for me, and that she intended to put an
end to this persecution by buying my freedom. I felt grateful for the kindness that prompted this offer, but
the idea was not so pleasant to me as might have been expected. The more my mind had become
enlightened, the more difficult it was for me to consider myself an article of property; and to pay money
to those who had so grievously oppressed me seemed like taking from my sufferings the glory of triumph.
I wrote to Mrs. Bruce, thanking her, but saying that being sold from one owner to another seemed too
much like slavery; that such a great obligation could not be easily cancelled; and that I preferred to go to
my brother in California.
Without my knowledge, Mrs. Bruce employed a gentleman in New York to enter into negotiations
with Mr. Dodge. He proposed to pay three hundred dollars down, if Mr. Dodge would sell me, and enter
into obligations to relinquish all claim to me or my children forever after. He who called himself my
master said he scorned so small an offer for such a valuable servant. The gentleman replied, "You can do
as you choose, sir. If you reject this offer you will never get any thing; for the woman has friends who
will convey her and her children out of the country."
Mr. Dodge concluded that "half a loaf was better than no bread," and he agreed to the proffered
terms. By the next mail I received this brief letter from Mrs. Bruce: "I am rejoiced to tell you that the
money for your freedom has been paid to Mr. Dodge. Come home to-morrow. I long to see you and my
sweet babe."
My brain reeled as I read these lines. A gentleman near me said, "It's true; I have seen the bill of
sale." "The bill of sale!" Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold at last! A human being sold in
the free city of New York! The bill of sale is on record, and future generations will learn from it that
women were articles of traffic in New York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. It may
hereafter prove a useful document to antiquaries, who are seeking to measure the progress of civilization
in the United States. I well know the value of that bit of paper; but much as I love freedom, I do not like
to look upon it. I am deeply grateful to the generous friend who procured it, but I despise the miscreant
who demanded payment for what never rightfully belonged to him or his.
I had objected to having my freedom bought, yet I must confess that when it was done I felt as if a
heavy load had been lifted from my weary shoulders. When I rode home in the cars I was no longer afraid
to unveil my face and look at people as they passed. I should have been glad to have met Daniel Dodge
himself; to have had him seen me and known me, that he might have mourned over the untoward
circumstances which compelled him to sell me for three hundred dollars.
When I reached home, the arms of my benefactress were thrown round me, and our tears mingled.
As soon as she could speak, she said, "O Linda, I'm so glad it's all over! You wrote to me as if you
thought you were going to be transferred from one owner to another. But I did not buy you for your
services. I should have done just the same, if you had been going to sail for California to-morrow. I
should, at least, have the satisfaction of knowing that you left me a free woman."
My heart was exceedingly full. I remembered how my poor father had tried to buy me, when I was a
small child, and how he had been disappointed. I hoped his spirit was rejoicing over me now. I
remembered how my good old grandmother had laid up her earnings to purchase me in later years, and
how often her plans had been frustrated. How that faithful, loving old heart would leap for joy, if she
could look on me and my children now that we were free! My relatives had been foiled in all their efforts,
but God had raised me up a friend among strangers, who had bestowed on me the precious, long-desired
boon. Friend! It is a common word, often lightly used. Like other good and beautiful things, it may be
tarnished by careless handling; but when I speak of Mrs. Bruce as my friend, the word is sacred.
My grandmother lived to rejoice in my freedom; but not long after, a letter came with a black seal.
She had gone "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest."
Time passed on, and a paper came to me from the south, containing an obituary notice of my uncle
Phillip. It was the only case I ever knew of such an honor conferred upon a colored person. It was written
by one of his friends, and contained these words: "Now that death has laid him low, they call him a good
man and a useful citizen; but what are eulogies to the black man, when the world has faded from his
vision? It does not require man's praise to obtain rest in God's kingdom." So they called a colored man a
citizen! Strange words to be uttered in that region!
Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage. I and my children are now
free! We are as free from the power of slaveholders as are the white people of the north; and though that,
according to my ideas, is not saying a great deal, it is a vast improvement in my condition. The dream of
my life is not yet realized. I do not sit with my children in a home of my own. I still long for a hearthstone
of my own, however humble. I wish it for my children's sake far more than for my own. But God so
orders circumstances as to keep me with my friend Mrs. Bruce. Love, duty, gratitude, also bind me to her
side. It is a privilege to serve her who pities my oppressed people, and who has bestowed the inestimable
boon of freedom on me and my children.
It has been painful to me, in many ways, to recall the dreary years I passed in bondage. I would
gladly forget them if I could. Yet the retrospection is not altogether without solace; for with those gloomy
recollections come tender memories of my good old grandmother, like light, fleecy clouds floating over a
dark and troubled sea.
First page of John Hay's draft of the Gettysburg Address, in Lincoln’s handwriting, from the Library of Congress website
Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation,
or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are
met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a
portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave
their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and
proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we
can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who
struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or
detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say
here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living,
rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who
fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be
here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these
honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they
gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve
that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under
God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the
people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863
Letter from Sullivan Ballou to wife:
July 14, 1861.
Camp Clark, Washington
My Very Dear Sarah,
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow.
Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may
fall under your eye when I shall be no more. Our movements may be of a few days
duration and full of pleasure — and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me.
Not my will, but thine, O God be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battle
field for my Country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in
the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how
strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and
how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering
of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in
this life to help maintain this Government and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys, I lay down nearly all of your's,
and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows, when after having eaten for long
years the bitter fruits of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to
my dear little children, is it weak or dishonorable, that while the banner of my
forefathers floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, underneath my unbounded love for
you, my darling wife and children should struggle in fierce, though useless contest with
my love of Country.
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm Summer Sabbath night, when two
thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying perhaps the last sleep
before that of death while I am suspicious that Death is creeping around me with his
fatal dart, as I sit communing with God, my Country and thee. I have sought most
closely and diligently and often in my heart for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the
happiness of those I love, and I could find none. A pure love of my Country and of the
principles I have so often advocated before the people — 'the name of honor, that I
love more than I fear death,' has called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables, that nothing
but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong
wind, and bears me irresistibly on with all those chains, to the battle field.
The memories of all the blissful moments I have spent with you, come creeping over
me, and I feel most gratified to God and you that I have enjoyed them so long. And how
hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when,
God willing we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our boys grow up to
honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine
Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my
little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah,
never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle
field, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how
foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears, every little
spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortunes of this world to shield
you, and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the Spirit-land
and hover near you, while you buffit the storm, with your precious little freight, and
wait with sad patience, till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they
loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladest days and the darkest nights, advised to
your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours, always, always; and if there be a soft breeze
upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air cools your throbbing temple, it
shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait
for thee, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys — they will grow up as I have done, and never know a father's
love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long — and my blue eyed
Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood.
Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of
their characters, and feel that God will bless you in your holy work.
Tell my two Mothers I call God's blessings upon them new. O! Sarah I wait for you
there; come to me, and lead thither my children.
The Liberator: "To the Public"
From The Liberator
January 1, 1831
To the Public
In the month of August, I issued proposals for publishing "THE LIBERATOR" in Washington city; but
the enterprise, though hailed in different sections of the country, was palsied by public indifference. Since
that time, the removal of the Genius of Universal Emancipation [Benjamin Lundy's anti-slavery
newspaper] to the Seat of Government has rendered less imperious the establishment of a similar
periodical in that quarter.
During my recent tour for the purpose of exciting the minds of the people by a series of discourses on the
subject of slavery, every place that I visited gave fresh evidence of the fact, that a greater revolution in
public sentiment was to be effected in the free states -- and particularly in New-England -- than at the
south. I found contempt more bitter, opposition more active, detraction more relentless, prejudice more
stubborn, and apathy more frozen, than among slave owners themselves. Of course, there were individual
exceptions to the contrary. This state of things afflicted, but did not dishearten me. I determined, at every
hazard, to lift up the standard of emancipation in the eyes of the nation, within sight of Bunker Hill and in
the birth place of liberty. That standard is now unfurled; and long may it float, unhurt by the spoliations
of time or the missiles of a desperate foe -- yea, till every chain be broken, and every bondman set free!
Let southern oppressors tremble -- let their secret abettors tremble -- let their northern apologists tremble - let all the enemies of the persecuted blacks tremble.
I deem the publication of my original Prospectus unnecessary, as it has obtained a wide circulation. The
principles therein inculcated will be steadily pursued in this paper, excepting that I shall not array myself
as the political partisan of any man. In defending the great cause of human rights, I wish to derive the
assistance of all religions and of all parties.
Assenting to the "self-evident truth" maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, "that all
men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- among which are
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement
of our slave population. In Park-street Church, on the Fourth of July, 1829, in an address on slavery, I
unreflectingly assented to the popluar but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity
to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly to ask pardon of my God, of my country,
and of my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice and
absurdity. A similar recantation, from my pen, was published in the Genius of Universal Emancipation at
Baltimore, in September, 1829. My consicence in now satisfied.
I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be
as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or
write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to
moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe
from the fire into which it has fallen; -- but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am
in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE
HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten
the resurrection of the dead.
It is pretended, that I am retarding the cause of emancipation by the coarseness of my invective, and the
precipitancy of my measures. The charge is not true. On this question my influence, -- humble as it is, -is felt at this moment to a considerable extent, and shall be felt in coming years -- not perniciously, but
beneficially -- not as a curse, but as a blessing; and posterity will bear testimony that I was right. I desire
to thank God, that he enables me to disregard "the fear of man which bringeth a snare," and to speak his
truth in its simplicity and power. And here I close with this fresh dedication:
Oppression! I have seen thee, face to face,
And met thy cruel eye and cloudy brow;
But thy soul-withering glance I fear not now -For dread to prouder feelings doth give place
Of deep abhorrence! Scorning the disgrace
Of slavish knees that at thy footstool bow,
I also kneel -- but with far other vow
Do hail thee and thy hord of hirelings base: -I swear, while life-blood warms my throbbing veins,
Still to oppose and thwart, with heart and hand,
Thy brutalising sway -- till Afric's chains
Are burst, and Freedom rules the rescued land, -Trampling Oppression and his iron rod:
Such is the vow I take -- SO HELP ME GOD!
William Lloyd Garrison
Lincoln Second Innagural Address (March 4, 1865)
At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended
address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed
fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been
constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and
engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon
which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably
satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an
impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered
from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city
seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both
parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other
would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but
localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew
that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest
was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government
claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the
war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the
conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier
triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same
God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a
just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that
we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.
The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that
offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American
slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having
continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and
South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any
departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly
do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God
wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of
unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another
drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the
Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,
let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have
borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and
lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Letter to Mrs. Bixby from Abraham Lincoln:
In the fall of 1864, Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew wrote to President Lincoln asking him to
express condolences to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow who was believed to have lost five sons during the
Civil War. Lincoln's letter to her was printed by the Boston Evening Transcript. Later it was revealed that
only two of Mrs. Bixby's five sons died in battle (Charles and Oliver). One deserted the army, one was
honorably discharged, and another deserted or died a prisoner of war.
The authorship of the letter has been debated by scholars, some of whom believe it was written instead by
John Hay, one of Lincoln's White House secretaries. The original letter was destroyed by Mrs. Bixby, who
was a Confederate sympathizer and disliked President Lincoln.
Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
Dear Madam,-I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of
Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the
grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be
found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the
cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a
sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln