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It is to be remarked, also, that the prairie is almost always elevated in the centre, so that, in advancing into it from either side, you see before you only the plain, with its curved outline marked upon the sky, and forming the horizon; but, on reaching the highest point, you look around upon the whole of the vast scene.
The attraction of the prairie consists in its extent, its carpet of verdure and flowers, its undulating surface, its groves, and the fringe of timber by which it is surrounded. Of all these, the latter is the most expressive feature; it is that which gives character to the landscape, which imparts the shape and marks the boundary of the plain. If the prairie be small, its greatest beauty consists in the vicinity of the surrounding margin of woodland, which resembles the shore of a lake, indented with deep vistas, like bays and inlets, and throwing out long points, like capes and headlands; while occasionally these points approach so closely on either hand, that the traveller passes through a narrow avenue or strait, where tho shadows of the woodland fall upon his path, and then emerges again into another prairie. Where the plain is large, the forest outline is seen in the far perspective, like the dim shore, when beheld at a distance from the ocean. The eye sometimes roams over the green meadow, without discovering a tree, a shrub, or any object in the immense expanse, but the wilderness of grass and flowers; while at another time, the prospect is enlivened by the groves, which are seen interspersed like islands, or the solitary tree which stands alone in the blooming desert.
If it be in the spring of the year, and the young grass has just covered the ground with a carpet of delicate green, and especially if the sun is rising from behind a distant swell of the plain, and glittering upon the dewdrops, no scene can be more lovely to the eye. The deer is seen grazing quietly upon the plain; the bee is on the wing; the wolf, with his tail dropped, is sneaking away to his covert, with the felon tread of one who is conscious that he has disturbed the peace of
nature; and the grouse, feeding in flocks, or in pairs, like the domestic fowl, cover the whole surface— the males strutting and erecting their plumage like the peacock, and uttering a long, loud, mournful note, something like the cooing of the dove, but resembling still more the sound produced by passing a rough finger boldly over the surface of a tambourine. The number of these birds is astonishing. The plain is covered with them in every direction ; and when they have been driven from the ground by a deep snow, I have seen thousands —or more properly tens of thousands — thickly clustered in the tops of the trees surrounding the prairie. They do not retire as the country becomes settled, but continue to lurk in the tall grass around the newly-made farms; and I have sometimes seen them mingled with the domestic fowls, at a short distance from the farmer's door. They will eat and even thrive when confined in a coop, and may undoubtedly be domesticated.
When the eye roves off from the green plain to the groves or points of timber, these are also found to be at this season robed in the most attractive hues. The rich undergrowth is in full bloom. The red-bud, the dogwood, the crab-apple, the wild plum, the cherry, the wild rose, are abundant in all tho rich lands; and the grape vine, although its blossom is unseen, fills the air with fragrance. The variety of the wild fruit and flowering shrubs is so great, and such the profusion of the blossoms with which they are bowed down, that the eye is regaled almost to satiety.
The gayety of the prairie, its embellishments, and the absence of the gloom and savage wildness of the forest, all contribute to dispel the feeling of lonesomeness, which usually creeps over the mind of the solitary traveller in the wilderness. Though one may see neither a house nor a human being, and is conscious that he is far from the habitations of man, he can scarcely divest himself of the idea that he is travelling through scenes embellished by the hand of art. The flowers fragile, so delicate, and so ornamental- -seem to have been tastefully disposed to adorn the scene. The groves and clumps of trees
seem to have been scattered over the lawu to beautify the landscape, and it is not easy to avoid the illusion of the fancy which persuades the beholder that such scenery has been created to gratify the refined taste of civilized man. Europeans are often reminded of the resemblance of this scenery to that of the extensive parks of noblemen, which they have been accustomed to admire in the old world. The lawn, the avenue, the grove,
copse, which are there produced by art, are here prepared by nature; a splendid specimen of massy architecture, and the distant view of villages, are alone wanting to make the similitude complete.
In the summer the prairie is covered with a long, coarse grass, which soon assumes a golden hue, and waves in the wind like a ripe harvest. Those who have not a personal knowledge of the subject would be deceived by the accounts which are published of the height of the grass. It is seldom so tall as travellers have represented, nor does it attain its highest growth in the richest soil. In the low, wet prairies, where the substratum of clay lies near the surface, the centre or main stem of this grass, which bears the seed, acquires great thickness, and shoots up to the height of eight or nine feet, throwing out a few long, coarse leaves or blades, and the traveller often finds it higher than his head, as he rides through it on horseback. The plants, although numerous and standing close together, appear to grow singly and unconnected, the whole force of the vegetative power expanding itself upwards. But in the rich undulating prairies, the grass is finer, with less of stalk and a greater profusion of leaves. The roots spread and interweave, so as to form a compact, even sod, and the blades expand into a close, thick sward, which is seldom more than eighteen inches high, and often less, until late in the season, when the seed-bearing stem shoots up.
The first coat of grass is mingled with small flowers - the violet, the bloom of the strawberry, and others of the most minute and delicate texture. As the grass increases in size, these disappear, and others, taller and more gaudy, display their brilliant colors upon the green surface; and still later, a larger and coarser succession rises with the rising tide of verdure. A fanciful writer asserts that the prevalent color of the prairie flowers is, in the spring, a bluish purple; in midsummer, red; and in the autumn, yellow. This is one of the notions that people get who study nature by the fireside. The truth is, that the whole of the surface of these beautiful plains is clad throughout the season of verdure with every imaginable variety of color, “ from grave to gay.” It is impossible to conceive a more infinite diversity, or a richer profusion of hues, or to detect any predominating tint except the green, which forms the beautiful ground, and relieves the exquisite brilliancy of all the others. The only changes of color, observed at the different seasons, arise from the circumstance, that in the spring the flowers are small and the colors delicate; as the heat becomes more ardent, a hardier race appears; the flowers attain a greater size, and the hue deepens; and still later, a succession of still coarser plants rises above the tall grass, throwing out larger and gaudier flowers.
In the winter the prairies present a gloomy and desolate appearance. The fire has passed over them, consuming every vegetable substance, and leaving the soil bare and the surface perfectly blank. That gracefully-waving outline, so attractive to the eye when clad in green, is now disrobed of all its ornaments; its fragrance, its notes of joy, and the graces of its landscape have all vanished, while the bosom of the cold earth, scorched and discolored, is alone visible. There is nothing to be seen but the cold, dead earth and the bare mound, which move not; and the traveller, with a strange sensation, feels the blast rushing over him, while not an object visible to the eye is seen to stir. Accustomed as the mind is to associate with the action of the wind its operation upon surrounding objects, there is a novel effect produced on the mind of one who feels the current of air rolling heavily over him, while nothing moves arowd.
(SYDNEY SMITH, a clergyman of the church of England, was born at Woodford, in the county of Essex, England, in 1771, and died in 1845. He was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Review, a periodical journal which has exerted, and is continuing to exert, so great an influence over the literature and politics of Great Britain, and was for many years a constant contributor to its pages. Among all the writers of his time, he is remarkable for his brilliant wit and rich vein of humor, which give a peculiar and pungent flavor to every thing that falls from his pen. But his wit and humor rested upon a foundation of sound common sense, and were always under the control of a warm and good heart. In reading him, we feel that he is first a wise man, and then a witty man. He was a courageous and consistent friend of civil and religious liberty; and in the various articles which he contributed to the Edinburgh Review, on social and political reform, he shows the enlarged views of an enlightened statesman, and the benevolent feeling of a Christian philanthropist.
Besides his articles in the Edinburgh Review, which have been published separately, Mr. Smith wrote two volumes of sermons, and the Letters of Peter Plymley. These last are a series of arguments in favor of Catholic emancipation, written in a most brilliant and sparkling style, and which did more than any thing else to imbue the popular mind of England with the true points at issue in this struggle. Since his death, a volume of Lectures on Moral Philosophy (from which the following extract is taken) has ta on published by his family.
Mr. Smith's private character was amiable and admirable. He was an effective preacher, and a most faithful and devoted pastor. He was, through life, overflowing with animal spirits, and full of intellectual power. His conversation sparkled with the richest and finest wit; but not a drop of gall was ever mingled with it. He had very warm affections, and was greatly beloved by a large circle of friends.
Since his death, his life has been written, and his letters published, by his daughter, Lady Holland; and they form one of the most delightful books of our time - full of sound sense, rich humor, and benevolent feeling.]
I WISH, after all I have said about wit and humor, I could satisfy myself of their good effects upon the character and disposition; but I am convinced the probable tendency of both is, to corrupt the understanding and the heart.
I am not speaking of wit where it is kept down by more serious qualities of mind, and thrown into the background of the picture; but where it stands out boldly and emphatically, and is evidently the master quality in any particular mind. Professed wits, though they are generally courted for the amusement they afford, are seldom respected for the qualities they possess. The habit of seeing things in a witty point of view, increases and makes incursions, from its own proper