Wildness and Savage Majesty Reigned

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

storm king

Now did the soft breezes of the south steal sweetly over the genial face of nature, tempering the panting heats of summer into genial and prolific warmth; when that miracle of hardihood and chivalric virtue, the dauntless Peter Stuyvesant, spread his canvas to the wind, and departed from the fair island of Manna-hata. The galley in which he embarked was sumptuously adorned with pendants and streamers of gorgeous dyes, which fluttered gayly in the wind, or drooped their ends into the bosom of the stream. The bow and poop of this majestic vessel were gallantly bedight, after the rarest Dutch fashion, with figures of little pursy Cupids with periwigs on their heads, and bearing in their hands garlands of flowers, the like of which are not to be found in any book of botany; being the matchless flowers which flourished in the golden age, and exist no longer, unless it be in the imaginations of ingenious carvers of wood and discolorers of canvas.

Thus rarely decorated, in style befitting the puissant potentate of the Manhattoes, did the galley of Peter Stuyvesant launch forth upon the bosom of the lordly Hudson, which, as it rolled its broad waves to the ocean, seemed to pause for a while and swell with pride, as if conscious of the illustrious burthen it sustained.

But trust me, gentlefolk, far other was the scene presented to the contemplation of the crew from that which may be witnessed at this degenerate day. Wildness and savage majesty reigned on the borders of this mighty river — the hand of cultivation had not as yet laid low the dark forest, and tamed the features of the landscape — nor had the frequent sail of commerce broken in upon the profound and awful solitude of ages. Here and there might be seen a rude wig-wam perched among the cliffs of the mountains with its curling column of smoke mounting in the transparent atmosphere — but so loftily situated that the whoopings of the savage children, gamboling on the margin of the dizzy heights, fell almost as faintly on the ear as do the notes of the lark when lost in the azure vault of heaven. Now and then, from the beetling brow of some precipice, the wild deer would look timidly down upon the splendid pageant as it passed below, and then, tossing his antlers in the air, would bound away into the thickets of the forest.

Through such scenes did the stately vessel of Peter Stuyvesant pass. Now did they skirt the bases of the rocky heights of Jersey, which spring up like everlasting walls, reaching from the waves unto the heavens, and were fashioned, if tradition may be believed, in times long past, by the mighty spirit Manetho, to protect his favorite abodes from the unhallowed eyes of mortals. Now did they career it gayly across the vast expanse of Tappan Bay, whose wide-extended shores present a variety of delectable scenery, — here the bold promontory, crowned with embowering tress, advancing into the bay, — there the long woodland slope, sweeping up from the shore in rich luxuriance, and terminating in the upland precipice, — while at a distance a long waving line of rocky heights threw their gigantic shades across the water. Now would they pass where some modest little interval, opening among these stupendous scenes, yet retreating as it were for protection into the embraces of the neighboring mountains, displayed a rural paradise, fraught with sweet and pastoral beauties; the velvet tufted lawn — the bushy copse — the tinkling rivulet, stealing through the fresh and vivid verdure — on whose banks was situated some little Indian village, or, peradventure, the rude cabin of some solitary hunter.

The different periods of the revolving day seemed each, with cunning magic, to diffuse a different charm over the scene. Now would the jovial sun break gloriously from the east, blazing from the summits of the hills, and sparkling the landscape with a thousand dewy gems; while along the borders of the river were seen heavy masses of mist, which, like midnight caitiffs, disturbed at his approach, made a sluggish retreat, rolling in sullen reluctance up the mountains. At such times all was brightness, and life, and gayety, — the atmosphere was of an indescribable pureness and transparency, — the birds broke forth in wanton madrigals, and the freshening breezes wafted the vessel merrily on her course. But when the sun sank amid a flood of glory in the west, mantling the heaves and the earth with a thousand gorgeous dyes, then all was calm, and silent, and magnificent. The late swelling sail hung lifelessly against the mast; — the seaman, with folded arms, leaned against the shrouds, lost in that involuntary musing which the sober grandeur of nature commands in the rudest of her children. The vast bosom of the Hudson was like an unruffled mirror, reflecting the golden splendor of the heavens excepting that now and then a bark canoe would steal across its surface, filled with painted savages, whose gay feathers glared brightly, as perchance a lingering ray of the setting sun gleamed upon them from the western mountains.

But when the hour of twilight spread its majestic mists around, then did the face of nature assume a thousand fugitive charms, which to the worthy heart that seeks enjoyment in the glorious works of its Maker are inexpressibly captivating. The mellow dubious light that prevailed just served to tinge with illusive colors the softened features of the scenery. The deceived but delighted eye sought vainly to discern in the broad masses of shade, the separating line between the land and water, or to distinguish the fading objects that seemed sinking into chaos. Now did the busy fancy supply the feebleness of vision, producing with industrious craft a fairy creation of her own. Under her plastic wand the barren rocks frowned upon the watery waste, in the semblance of lofty towers, and high embattled castles, — trees assumed the direful forms of mighty giants, and the inaccessible summits of the mountains seemed peopled with a thousand shadowy beings.

Now broke forth from the shores the notes of an innumerable variety of insects, which filled the air with a strange but not inharmonious concert, — while ever and anon was heard the melancholy plaint of the whippoorwill, who, perched on some lone tree, wearied the ear of night with his incessant moanings. The mind, soothed into a hallowed melancholy, listened with pensive stillness to catch and distinguish each sound that vaguely echoed from the shore — now and then startled perchance by the whoop of some straggling savage, or by the dreary howl of a wolf, stealing forth upon his nightly prowlings.

Thus happily did they pursue their course, until they entered upon those awful defiles denominated the Highlands, where it would seem that the gigantic Titans had erst waged their impious war with heaven, piling up cliffs on cliffs, and hurling vast masses of rock in wild confusion. But in sooth very different is the history of these cloud-capt mountains. These in ancient days, before the Hudson poured its waters from the lakes, formed one vast prison, within whose rocky bosom the omnipotent Manetho confined the rebellious spirits who repined at his control. Here, bound in adamantine chains, or jammed in rifted pines, or crushed by ponderous rocks, they groaned for many an age. At length the conquering Hudson, in its career towards the ocean, burst open their prison-house, rolling its tide triumphantly through the stupendous ruins.

Still, however, do many of them lurk about their old abodes; and these it is, according to venerable legends, that cause the echoes which resound throughout these awful solitudes, — which are nothing but their angry clamors when any noise disturbs the profoundness of their repose. For when the elements are agitated by tempest, when the winds are up and the thunder rolls, then horrible is the yelling and howling of these troubled spirits, making the mountains to rebellow with their hideous uproar; for at such times it is said that they think the great Manetho is returning once more to plunge them in gloomy caverns, and renew their intolerable captivity.

But all these fair and glorious scenes were lost upon the gallant Stuyvesant; naught occupied his mind but thoughts of iron war, and proud anticipations of hardy deeds of arms. Neither did his honest crew trouble their heads with any romantic speculations of the kind. The pilot at the helm quietly smoked his pipe, thinking of nothing either past, present, or to come — those of his comrades who were not industriously smoking under the hatches were listening with open mouths to Antony Van Corlear, who, seated on the windlass, was relating to them the marvelous history of those myriads of fireflies that sparkled like gems and spangles upon the dusky robe of night. These, according to tradition, were originally a race of pestilent sempiternous beldames, who peopled these parts long before the memory of man; being of that abominated race emphatically called brimstones; and who, for their innumerable sins against the children of men, and to furnish an awful warning to the beauteous sex, were doomed to infest the earth in the shape of these threatening and terrible little bugs, enduring the internal torments of that fire, which they formerly carried in their hearts and breathed forth in their words, but now are sentenced to bear about for ever — in their tails!

And now I am going to tell a fact, which I doubt much my readers will hesitate to believe; but if they do, they are welcome not to believe a word in this whole history, for nothing which it contains is more true. It must be known then that the nose of Antony the Trumpeter was of a very lusty size, strutting boldly from his countenance like a mountain of Golconda; being sumptuously bedecked with rubies and other precious stones, — the true regalia of a king of good fellows, which jolly Bacchus grants to all who bouse it heartily at the flagon. Now thus it happened, that bright and early in the morning, the good Antony, having washed his burly visage, was leaning over the quarter railing of the galley, contemplating it in the glassy wave below. — Just at this moment the illustrious sun, breaking in all its splendor from behind a high bluff of the highlands, did dart one of his most potent beams full upon the refulgent nose of the sounder of brass — the reflection of which shot straightway down, hissing-hot, into the water, and killed a mighty sturgeon that was sporting beside the vessel! This huge monster being with infinite labor hoisted on board, furnished a luxurious repast to all the crew, being accounted of excellent flavor, excepting about the wound, where it smacked a little of brimstone; — and this, on my veracity, was the first time that ever sturgeon was eaten in these parts by Christian people.

When this astonishing miracle came to be made known to Peter Stuyvesant, and that he tasted of the unknown fish, he, as may well be supposed, marveled exceedingly; and as a monument thereof, he gave the name of Antony’s Nose to a stout promontory in the neighborhood; and it has continued to be called Antony’s Nose ever since that time.

But hold: whither am I wandering? By the mass, if I attempt to accompany the good Peter Stuyvesant on this voyage, I shall never make an end; for never was there a voyage so fraught with marvelous incidents, nor a river so abounding with transcendant beauties, worthy of being severally recorded. Even now I have it on the point of my pen to relate how his crew were most horribly frightened, on going on shore above the highlands, by a gang of merry roistering devils, frisking and curveting on a flat rock, which projected into the river — and which is called the Duyvel’s Dans-Kamer to this very day. But no! Diedrich Knickerbocker, it becomes thee not to idle thus in thy historic wayfaring.

Recollect that while dwelling with the fond garrulity of age over these fairy scenes, endeared to thee by the recollections of thy youth, and the charms of a thousand legendary tales, which beguiled the simple ear of thy childhood, — recollect that thou art trifling with those fleeting moments which should be devoted to loftier themes. Is not Time — relentless Time! — shaking, with palsied hand, his almost exhausted hour-glass before thee? Hasten then to pursue thy weary task, lest the last sands be run ere thou hast finished thy history of the Manhattoes.

Let us, then, commit the dauntless Peter, his brave galley, and his loyal crew, to the protection of the blessed St. Nicholas; who, I have no doubt, will prosper him in his voyage, while we await his return at the great city of New Amsterdam.

— Washington Irving

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Books Publishing and Writing, History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Wildness and Savage Majesty Reigned

  1. Faze says:

    A visit to Washington Irving’s house in Tarrytown, NY, is well worth it. Massive wisteria around the front door. Sleeping nook. Garden “run”.


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