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XIII. - SENECA LAKE.
(JAMES GATES PERCIVAL was born in Kensington, Connecticut, September 15, 1795 pas graduated at Yale College in 1815, and died in May, 1856. Most of his poems wero written in youth and early manhood. They are musical, inventive, marked by a brilliant and creative fancy, and a copious command of expressive language; but, in gen eral, they lack the warmth and interest which come from the passions and affections of the human heart.
Mr. Percival was a man of various and profound learning, both in science and literature, especially in geology, botany, geography, and philology. His habits were peculias and eccentric; and for many years before his death he lived in great seclusion.7
On thy fair bosom, silver lake,
The wild swan spreads his snowy sail,
As down he bears before the gale.
On thy fair bosom, waveless stream,
The dipping paddle echoes far,
And bright reflects the polar star.
The waves along thy pebbly shore,
As blows the north wind, heave their foam,
As late the boatman hies him home.
How sweet, at set of sun, to view
Thy golden mirror spreading wide,
Float round the distant mountain's side!
At midnight hour, as shines the moon,
A sheet of silver spreads below,
Light clouds, like wreaths of purest snow.
On thy fair bosom, silver lake,
O, I could ever sweep the oar,
And evening tells us toil is o'er.
XIV. - THE HILL OF SCIENCE. A VISION.
In that season of the year when the serenity of the sky, the various fruits which cover the ground, the discolored foliage of the trees, and all the sweet but fading graces of inspiring autumn, open the mind to benevolence, and dispose it for contemplation, I was wandering in a beautiful and romantic country, till curiosity began to give way to weariness; and I sat me down on the fragment of a rock overgrown with moss, where the rustling of the falling leaves, the dashing of waters, and the hum of the distant city, soothed my mind into the most perfect tranquillity; and sleep insensibly stole upon me, as I was indulging the agreeable reveries which the objects around me naturally inspired.
I immediately found myself in a vast, extended plain, in the middle of which arose a mountain higher than I had before any conception of. It was covered with a multitude of people, chiefly youth; many of whom pressed forwards with the liveliest expression of ardor in their countenance, though the way was in many places steep and difficult. I observed that those who had but just begun to climb the hill thought themselves not far from the top; but as they proceeded new hills were continually rising to their view, and the summit of the highest they could before discern seemed but the foot of another, till the mountain at length appeared to lose itself in the clouds. As I was gazing on these things with astonishment, my good genius suddenly appeared. “The mountain before thee,” said he, “is the Hill of Science. On the top is the Temple of Truth, whose head is above the clouds, and a veil of pure light covers her face. Observe the progress of her votaries; be silent and attentive.”
I saw that the only regular approach to the mountain was oy a gate, called the Gate of Languages. It was kept by a woman of a pensive and thoughtful appearance, whose lips were continually moving, as though she repeated something to her self. Her name was Memory. On entering this first enclosure, I was stunned with a confused murmur of jarring voices and dissonant sounds, which increased upon me to such a degree that I was utterly confounded, and could compare the noise to nothing but the confusion of tongues at Babel. The road was also rough and stony, and rendered more difficult by heaps of rubbish continually tumbled down from the higher parts of the mountain, and broken ruins of ancient buildings, which the travellers were obliged to climb over at every step ; insomuch that many, disgusted with so rough a beginning, turned back, and attempted the mountain no more; while others, having conquered this difficulty, had no spirits to ascend farther, and sitting down on some fragment of the rubbish, harangued the multitude below with the greatest marks of importance and self-complacency.
About half way up the hill I observed on each side the path a thick forest covered with continual fogs, and cut out into labyrinths, cross alleys, and serpentine walks, entangled with thorns and briers. This was called the Wood of Error; and I heard the voices of many who were lost up and down in it, calling to one another, and endeavoring in vain to extricate themselves. The trees in many places shot their boughs over the path, and a thick mist often rested on it, yet never so much but that it was discernible by the light which beamed from the countenance of Truth.
In the pleasantest part of the mountain were placed the bowers of the Muses, whose office it was to cheer the spirits of the travellers, and encourage their fainting steps with songs from their divine harps. Not far from hence were the fields of Fiction, filled with a variety of wild flowers, springing up in the greatest luxuriance, of richer scents and brighter colors than I had observed in any other climate. And near them was the dark walk of Allegory, so artificially shaded, that the light at noonday was never stronger than that of a bright moonshine. This gave it a pleasingly romantic air for those who delighted in contemplation. The paths and alleys were perplexed with intricate windings, and were all terminated with the statue of a Grace, a Virtue, or a Muse.
After I had observed these things, I turned my eye towards the multitudes who were climbing the steep ascent, and observed amongst them a youth of a lively look, a piercing eye, and something fiery and irregular in all his motions. His name was Genius. He darted like an eagle up the mountain, and left his companions gazing after him with envy and admiration; but his progress 'was unequal, and interrupted by a thousand caprices. When Pleasure warbled in the valley, he mingled in her train. When Pride beckoned towards the precipice, he ventured to the tottering edge. He delighted in devious and untried paths, and made so many excursions from the road that his feebler companions often outstripped him. I observed that the Muses beheld him with partiality; but Truth often frowned and turned aside her face.
While Genius was thus wasting his strength in eccentric flights, I saw a person of a very different appearance, named Application. He crept along with a slow and unremitting pace, his eyes fixed on the top of the mountain, patiently removing every stone that obstricted his way, till he saw most of those below him who had at first derided his slow and toilsome progress. Indeed there were few who ascended the hill with equal and uninterrupted steadiness; for, besides the difficulties of the way, they were continually solicited to turn aside by a numerous crowd of Appetites, Passions, and Pleasures, whose importunity when they had once complied with, they became less and less able to resist; and though they often returned to the path, the asperities of the road were more severely felt, the hill appeared more steep and rugged, the fruits which were wholesome and refreshing seemed harsh and ill tasted, their sight grew dim, and their feet tripped at every little obstruction.
I saw, with some surprise, that the Muses, whose business was to cheer and encourage those who were toiling up the ascent, would often sing in the bowers of Pleasure, and accom.
pany those who were enticed away at the call of the Passions they accompanied them, however, but a little way, and always forsook them when they lost sight of the hill. The tyrants then doubled their chains upon the unhappy captives, and led them away, without resistance, to the cells of Ignorance or the mansions of Misery. Amongst the innumerable seducers, who were endeavoring to draw away the votaries of Truth from the path of Science, there was one so little formidable in her appearance, and so gentle and languid in her attempts, that I should scarcely have taken notice of her, but for the numbers she had imperceptibly loaded with her chains. Indolence, (for so she was called,) far from proceeding to open hostilities, did not attempt to turn their feet out of the path, but contented herself with retarding their progress; and the purpose she could not force them to abandon she persuaded them to uciay.
Her touch had a power like that of the torpedo, which withered the strength of those who came within its influence. Her unhappy captives still turned their faces towards the temple, and always hoped to arrive there; but the ground seemed to slide from beneath their feet, and they found themselves at the bottom before they suspected they had changed their place. The placid serenity which at first appeared in their countenance changed by degrees into a melancholy languor, which was tinged with deeper and deeper gloom, as they glided down the Stream of Insignificance-a dark and sluggish water, which is curled by no breeze, and enlivened by no murmur, till it falls into a dead sea, where startled passengers are awakened by the shock, and the next moment buried in the Gulf of Oblivion.
Of all the unhappy deserters from the paths of Science, none seemed less able to return than the followers of Indolence. The captives of Appetite and Passion could often seize the moment when their tyrants were languid or asleep to escape from their enchantment; but the dominion of Indolence was constant and unremitted, and seldom resisted till resistance was in vain.