On the Hudson, Saturday, October 20. My happiest hours here are those which I spend alone in the forenoon, in my room, with American books which Mr. Downing lends me, and those passed in the evening with my host and hostess, sitting in the little darkened parlor with bookcases and busts around us, and the fire quietly glimmering in the large fireplace. There, by the evening lamp, Mr. Downing and his wife read to me by turns passages from their most esteemed American poets. Afterward I carry the books with me up into my chamber; in this way I have become acquainted with Bryant, Lowell, and Emerson, all of them representatives, in however dissimilar manner, of the life of the New World. Bryant sings especially of its natural life, of its woods, its prairies, its peculiar natural scenes and phenomena; and his song breathes the quiet, fresh inspiration of that life. One feels the sap circulating through the veins of the plant, and the leaves shooting forth. His Thanatopsis, or night song, is a largely conceived,
Waldo Emerson, a philosopher rather than a poet, yet poetic in his prose philosophical essays, strikes me as a new and peculiar character, the most unusual of the three. He appears to me like an American Thorild, who by his own powerful nature would transform the world, seeking law and inspiration within his own breast alone. Strong and pure, calm and self-collected, but fantastical withal, he sends out from his transcendental viewpoint aphorisms on nature and history, on God (whom he does not regard as a personal God, but as a superior soul in harmony with laws), and on men, criticising them and their works from the ideal of the highest truth and highest beauty. "The world," says Emerson, "has not seen a man," and he looks forward with longing to that man, the man of the new world, in whose advent he believes. What this new individual shall really be, and what he is to do, is somewhat indefinite; but he must be true and beautiful in the highest sense of the term; and further, I suspect, he must be very handsome and tall of stature, if he is to find favor with Emerson, who is himself, they say, a man of singular
I have never as yet gone a step to see a literary lion; but I would go a considerable way to see Emerson, this pioneer in the moral forests of the New World, who applies his axe to the roots of the old trees to hew them down and to open the path for new planting. And see him I will — him who, in a society as strictly evangelical as that of Massachusetts and Boston (Emerson was the minister of a Unitarian congregation in Boston) had the courage openly to resign his ministration, his church, and the Christian faith, when he had come to doubt some of its principal doctrines; who was noble enough, nevertheless, to retain universal esteem and old friends; and strong enough, while avoiding all controversy and bitterness of speech, to withdraw into silence, to labor alone for that truth which he fully acknowledged, for those teachings which heathen and Christian alike recognize. Emerson has a right to talk about strength and truth, because he lives for these virtues. And it will benefit the world, which is slumbering in the Church from lack of vital Christianity, to be roused up by such fresh winds from the Himalaya of paganism.
Now I must tell you something of my late doings
Longfellow, the author of Evangeline, is perhaps the best read and most popular poet in America; but this is owing to qualities which are common alike to the older poets of all countries, rather than to any peculiar characteristics of the New World. Those sentiments, whether happy or sorrowful, which exist in the breast of every superior human being are peculiarly his domain, and here he exercises his sway, particularly in the delineation of the more delicate changes of feeling. In Evangeline, however, he has dealt with an
Mr. Downing has mentioned to me Horace Mann, as one of the persons who have most effectually labored for the future, as an individual who has brought about by his enthusiasm and determination a great reform in the field of instruction, who has labored for the erection of beautiful new schools in all parts of the country, and has infused a new life into the organization of schools. It appears that the reformers and lecturers who develop the spiritual and intellectual life in America and arouse its ideal, come from the Northern States, from New England, and in particular from Massachusetts, the oldest home of the Pilgrims and the Puritans.
Mr. Downing has drawn up for me a proposed route of travel—the plan of a journey for one year through the United States, and has furnished me with letters to his friends in the different states. I still had a deal to say to you about my happiness in being here, my happiness in the new vitality which seems given to me, although I feel that the outer life is a little wearisome sometimes; and I expect to have to pay for it one of these days. But ah! how few there are who have to complain of having too many objects of interest, of experiencing too much good will!
Not far from Mr. Downing’s villa, on the other side of the Hudson river, a brick-maker has built himself a lovely home. This honorable man—for so he seems to be, and so he really is—has been here two or three times to present me with flowers and invite me to his villa. My attention has been called, also, to a pretty little house, a frame structure with green veranda and garden, right in this neighborhood. "It belongs," said Mr. Downing, "to a man who in the daytime drives cartloads of stone and rubbish for making the roads." In this the workingman of the New World has more advantages than he of the Old. He can here, by the hard labor of his hands, obtain the more refined pleasures of life, a fine home and the fruits of education for his family, much more quickly. And he may obtain these if he will.
At this moment an explosion thunders from the other side of the Hudson, and I see huge blocks of stone hurled into the air and fall into the water, which foams and boils in consequence: it is a rock which is being blasted to make room for a railway now in the course of construction along the banks of the river, where the power of steam on land will compete with the power of steam on water. To hurl mountains out of the way, to bore through them and build tunnels, to move hills into the water as a foundation for roads in places where
Now come the steamboats thundering like tempests among the hills. Two or three chase each other like brilliant meteors; two others plow along, working heavily, laboring and puffing, and pulling a whole fleet of larger and smaller craft. The little town of Newburgh alone maintains, by its trade from the country back of it, two or three steamboats. When one sees the number and magnificence of the Hudson steamers, one can scarcely believe the fact, which is true nevertheless, that it is not more than thirty years ago since Fulton made here his first experiment with steam power on the river, and that amid general distrust of the undertaking.
 Thomas Thorild (1759-1808), Swedish poet, critic and
philosophical writer. — Editor’s Note.