« ПретходнаНастави »
PROF. TYNDALL AT NIAGARA.
N Friday, the 1st of November, 1872, just before reaching the village of Niagara Falls, I caught from the railway-train, my first glimpse of the smoke of the cataract. Immediately after my arrival, I went with a friend to the northern end of the American Fall. It may be that my mood at the time toned down the impression produced by the first aspect of this grand cascade; but I felt nothing like disappointment, knowing, from old experience, that time and close acquaintanceship, the gradual interweaving of mind and Nature, must powerfully influence my final estimate of the scene. After dinner we crossed to Goat Island, and, turning to the right, reached the southern end of the American Fall. The river is here studded with small islands. Crossing a wooden bridge to Luna Island, and clasping a tree which grows near its edge, I looked long at the cataract, which here shoots down the precipice like an avalanche of foam. It grew in power and beauty as I gazed upon it. The channel, spanned by the wooden bridge, was deep, and the river there doubled over the edge of the precipice like the swell of a muscle, unbroken. The ledge here overhangs, the water being poured out far beyond the base of the precipice. A space, called the Cave of the Winds, is thus enclosed between the wall of rock and the cataract.
Goat Island terminates in a sheer dry precipice, which connects the American and the Horseshoe Falls. Midway between both is a wooden hut, the residence of the guide to the Cave of the Winds, and from the hut a winding staircaise, called Biddle's Stair, descends to the base of the precipice. On the evening of my arrival I went down this stair, and wandered along the bottom of the cliff. One well-known factor in the formation and retreat of the cataract was immediately observed. A thick layer of limestone formed the upper portion of the cliff. This rested upon a bed of soft shale, which extended round the base of the cataract. The violent recoil of the water against this yielding substance crumbles it away, undermining the ledge above, which, unsupported, eventually breaks off, and produces the observed recession.
At the southern extremity of the Horseshoe is a promontory, formed by the doubling back of the gorge, excavated by the cataract, and into which it plunges. On the promontory stands a stone building, called the Terrapin Tower, the door of which had been nailed up because of the decay of the staircase within it. Through the kindness of Mr. Townsend, the superintendent of Goat Island, the door was opened for me. From this tower, at all hours of the day, and at some hours of the night, I watched and listened to the Horseshoe Fall. The river here is evidently much deeper than the American branch; and, instead of bursting into foam where it quits the ledge, it bends solidly over and falls in a continuous layer
of the most vivid green. The tint is not uniform, but varied, long stripes of deeper hue alternating with bands of brighter color. Close to the ledge over which the water rolls, foam is generated, the light falling upon which, and flashing back from it, is sifted in its passage to and fro, and changed from white to emerald green. Heaps of superficial foam are also formed at intervals along the ledge, and immediately drawn down in long white striæ.* Lower down, the surface, shaken by the reaction from below, incessantly rustles into whiteness. The descent finally resolves itself into a rythm, the water reaching the bottom of the fall in periodic gushes. Nor is the spray uniformly diffused through the air, but is wafted through it in successive veils of gauze-like texture. From all this it is evident that beauty is not absent from the Horseshoe Fall, but majesty is its chief attribute. The plunge of the water is not wild, but deliberate, vast, and fascinating. From the Terrapin Tower, the adjacent arm of the Horseshoe is seen projected against the opposite one, midway down; to the imagination, therefore, is left the picturing of the gulf into which the cataract plunges.
The delight which natural scenery produces in some minds is difficult to explain, and the conduct which it prompts can hardly be fairly criticised by those who have never experienced it. It seems to me a deduction from the completeness of the celebrated Thomas Young, that he was unable to appreciate natural scenery. "He had really," says Dean Peacock, "no taste for life in the country; he was one of those who thought that no one who was able to live in London would be content to live elsewhere." Well, Dr. Young, like Dr. Johnson, had a right to his delights; but I can understand a hesitation to except them, high as they were, to the exclusion of
"That o'erflowing joy which Nature yields
To all who are of this mind, the strengthening of desire on my part to see and know Niagara Falls, as far as it is possible for them to be seen and known, will be intelligible.
On the first evening of my visit, I met, at the head of Biddle's Stair, the guide to the Cave of the Winds. He was in the prime of manhood-large, well built, firm and pleasant in mouth and eye. My interest in the scene stirred up his, and made him communicative. Turning to a photograph, he described, by reference to it, a feat which he had accomplished some time previously, and which had brought him almost under the green water of the Horseshoe Fall. "Can you lead me there to-morrow?" I asked. He eyed me inquiringly, weighing, perhaps, the chances of a man of light build and with gray in his whiskers in such an under
*The direction of the wind, with reference to the course of a ship, may be inferred with accuracy from the foam-streaks on the surface of the sea.
taking. "I wish," I added, "to see as much of the fall as can be seen, and where you lead I will endeavor to follow." His scrutiny relaxed into a smile, and he said, "Very well; I shall be ready for you to-morrow."
On the morrow, accordingly, I came. In the hut at the head of Biddle's Stair I stripped wholly, and redressed according to instructions - drawing on two pairs of woollen pantaloons, three woollen jackets, two pairs of socks, and a pair of felt shoes. Even if wet, my guide urged that the clothes would keep me from being chilled, and he was right. A suit and hood of yellow oil-cloth covered all. Most laudible precautions were taken by the young assistant of the guide to keep the water out, but his devices broke down immediately when severely tested.
We descended the stair; the handle of a pitchfork doing in my case the duty of an alpenstock. At the bottom my guide inquired whether we should go first to the Cave of the Winds, or to the Horseshoe, remarking that the latter would try us most. I decided to get the roughest done first, and he turned to the left over the stones. They were sharp and trying. The base of the first portion of the cataract is covered with huge bowlders, obviously the ruins of the limestone ledge above. The water does not distribute itself uniformly among these, but seeks for itself channels through which it pours torrentially. We passed some of these with wetted feet, but without difficulty. At length we came to the side of a more formidable current. My guide walked along its edge until he reached its least turbulent portion. Halting, he said,This is our greatest difficulty; if we can cross here, we shall get far toward the Horseshoe."
He waded in. It evidently required all his strength to steady him. The water rose above his loins, and it foamed still higher. He had to search for footing, amid unseen bowlders, against which the torrent rose violently. He struggled and swayed, but he struggled successfully, and finally reached the shallower water at the other side. Stretching out his arm, he said to me, "Now come on." I looked down the torrent as it rushed to the river below which was seething with the tumult of the cataract. De Saussure recommended the inspection of Alpine dangers with the view of making them familiar to the eye before they are encountered; and it is a wholesome custom, in places of difficulty, to put the possiblity of an accident clearly before the mind, and to decide beforehand what ought to be done should the accident occur. Thus wound up in the present instance, I entered the water. Even where it was not more than knee-deep its power was manifest. As it rose around me, I sought to split the torrent by presenting a side to it; but the insecurity of the footing enabled it to grasp the loins, twist me fairly round, and bring its impetus to bear upon the back. Further struggle was impossible; and, feeling my
balance hopelessly gone, I turned, flung myself toward the bank I had just quitted, and was instantly swept into shallower water.
The oil-cloth covering was a great incumbrance; it had been made for a much stouter man, and, standing upright after my submersion, my legs occupied the centres of two bags of water. My guide exhorted me to try again. Prudence was at my elbow, whispering dissuasion; but, taking every thing into account, it appeared more immoral to retreat than to proceed. Instructed by the first misadventure, I once more entered the stream. Had the alpenstock been of iron it might have helped me; but, as it was, the tendency of the water to sweep it out of my hands rendered it worse than useless. I, however, clung to it by habit. Again the torrent rose, and again I wavered; but, by keeping the left hip well against it, I remained upright, and at length grasped the hand of my leader at the other side. He laughed pleasantly. The first victory was gained, and he enjoyed it. "No traveller," said he, "was ever here before." Soon afterwards, by trusting to a piece of drift-wood which seemed firm, I was again taken off my feet, but was immediately caught by a protruding rock.
We clambered over the bowlders toward the thickest spray, which soon became so weighty as to cause us to stagger under its shock. For the most part nothing could be seen; we were in the midst of bewildering tumult, lashed by the water, which sounded at times like the cracking of innumerable whips. Underneath this was the deep, resonant roar of the cataract. I tried to shield my eyes with my hands, and look upward; but the defence was useless. My guide continued to move on, but at a certain place he halted, and desired me to take shelter in his lee and observe the cataract. The spray did not come so much from the upper ledge as from the rebound of the shattered water when it struck the bottom. Hence the eyes could be protected from the blinding shock of the spray, while the line of vision to the upper ledges remained to some extent clear. On looking upward over the guide's shoulder I could see the water bending over the ledge, while the Terrapin Tower loomed fitfully through the intermittent spray-gusts. We were right under the tower. A little farther on, the cataract, after its first plunge, hit a protuberance some way down, and flew from it in a prodigious burst of spray; through this we staggered. We rounded the promontory on which the Terrapin Tower stands, and pushed, amid the wildest commotion, along the arm of the Horseshoe, until the bowlders failed us, and the cataract fell into the profound gorge of the Niagara River.
Here my guide sheltered me again, and desired me to look up; I did so, and could see, as before, the green gleam of the mighty curve sweeping over the upper ledge, and the fitful plunge of the water as the spray between us and it alternately gathered and disappeared. An eminent friend of mine often speaks to me of the mistake of those physicians who regard man's ailments as
purely chemical, to be met by chemical remedies only. He contends for the psychological element of cure. By agreeable emotions, he says, nervous currents are liberated which stimulate blood, brain, and viscera. The influence rained from ladies' eyes enables my friend to thrive on dishes which would kill him if eaten alone. A sanative effect of the same order I experienced amid the spray and thunder of Niagara. Quickened by the emotions there aroused, the blood sped exultingly through the arteries, abolishing introspection, clearing the heart of all bitterness, and enabling one to think with tolerance, if not with tenderness, on the most relentless and unreasonable foe. Apart from its scientific value, and purely as a moral agent, the play, I submit, is worth the candle. My companion knew no more of me than that I enjoyed the wildness; but, as I bent in the shelter of his large frame, he said, "I should like to see you attempting to describe all this." He rightly thought it indescribable. The name of this gallant fellow was Thomas Conroy.
We returned, clambering at intervals up and down so as to catch glimpses of the most impressive portions of the cataract. We passed under ledges formed by tabular masses of limestone, and through some curious openings formed by the falling together of the summits of the rocks. At length we found ourselves beside our enemy of the morning. My guide halted for a minute or two, scanning the torrent thoughtfully. I said that, as a guide, he ought to have a rope in such a place; but he retorted that, as no traveller had ever thought of coming there, he did not see the necessity of keeping a rope. He waded in. The struggle to keep himself erect was evident enough; he swayed, but recovered himself again and again. At length he slipped, gave way, did as I had done, threw himself flat in the water towards the bank, and was swept into the shallows. Standing in the stream near its edge, he stretched his arm towards me. I retained the pitchfork handle, for it had been useful among the bowlders. By wading some way in, the staff could be made to reach him, and I proposed his seizing it. "If you are sure," he replied, "that, in case of giving way, you can maintain your grasp, then I will certainly hold you." I waded in, and stretched the staff to my companion. It was firmly grasped by both of us. Thus helped, though its onset was strong, I moved safely across the torrent. All danger ended here. We afterward roamed sociably among the torrents and bowlders below the Cave of the Winds. The rocks were covered with organic slime which could not have been walked over with bare feet, but the felt shoes effectually prevented slipping. We reached the cave and entered it, first by a wooden way carried over the bowlders, and then along a narrow ledge to the point eaten deepest into the shale. When the wind is from the south, the falling water, I am told, can be seen tranquilly from this spot; but, when we were there, a blinding hurricane of spray