Page images

desire to learn the exact limits of a county in Ohio, the precise location of a seat of justice in Illinois, or the particular character of a lead mine in Missouri-yet these are geographical facts. Throwing them aside as unimportant, or putting them out of the question as not attainable, the remainder of this department of Mr. Flint's work is entitled to no common share of praise.

The introductory part of this work is that which perhaps will be read with most interest, as it embraces popular topics, and affords full scope to the peculiar talents of the author. In tracing out the natural divisions of the country, and developing its prominent features, he exhibits great power and felicity of description. Whenever he shakes off the trammels of the mere geographer, and gets back to his recollections, when he lays aside the compiler, and assumes the author, he becomes eloquent and graphic.

The first volume begins with the “General features of the Mississippi valley ; Face of the Country; Mountains; Minerals;" arranged under distinct heads. The divisions of these subjects is natural and comprehensive, and the execution masterly. Instead of wearying the reader with technical details of the topography of each petty district, the author classes his subject under a few general heads, which comprise all the information desired. The plan is judicious; for, although the western country embraces every variety of soil and surface, there is no country whose features are more strongly marked with characteristic traits. The mountains—the prairies—the barrens—the river bottoms—the timbered uplands--the mineral districts, each include vast regions, and have each a distinctive character. Within each district the character of the country is remarkably uniform--so much so, that a person conversant with the subject, will often, by the mere inspection of a map, form a tolerable idea of the description of a district which he has not seen. The author traces the magnificent outline of this immense valley, with the bold hand of one who is intimately acquainted with all its features. Bounded by the Alleghanies on the one side, and the Rocky Mountains on the other, the mind is filled with wonder in the contemplation of its immensity. It is the largest valley in the world. The whole is drained by the Mississippi, some of whose tributaries roll for a thousand miles through forests yet unexplored, before they mingle their waters with those of the mighty stream.

“Tracing the distance by the meanders of the rivers, from Oleane point on the Allegheny, to the highest point of boat navigation on the Missouri, the distance will be nearly five thousand miles. From the highest point of boatable waters on the Tennessee, to the highest point to which boats can ascend on the Arkansas and Red rivers, the distance by the same measure is at least three thousand miles. In short, examined in any of its dimensions, this valley presents to us the extent of a continent. We need only examine this distance, as laid down

on the graphic scale, to which we have alluded, to be struck with the prodigious extent of comparative plain, between the Alleghenies and the Rocky mountains.

“Most other large and long rivers, rise and fall into the sea nearly in the same climate. We recollect no other river but the Mississippi, that rises in frozen regions, and far to the north, and continues to bend its course to the south, still acquiring the temperature of more genial climates, until it discharges its waters into the sea, in the region of the olive, the fig, and the sugar-cane. From this singular configuration of the valley, results, as we shall have occasion to observe, its great diversity of climate.

"There is another singular circumstance in the physical character of this val. ley. The great ranges of mountains that bound it, on its eastern and western extremities, stretch along, comparatively, near their respective oceans. For instance, no one of the Atlantic rivers that rises in the Alleghenies, has any thing like so long a course as the Ohio or the Tennessee, although neither of these rivers, in reaching their parent channel, has traversed half the width of the Mississippi valley."

Climate. - The author's views on this subject, accord with those of other intelligent men, but are generally of a speculative character. They are not the result of scientific investigation, or actual experiment. Yet, they are valuable as far as they go, as the opinions of an acute observer, founded upon long experience. The frame of an author may be readily supposed to be sufficiently sensitive, but we should not admit its infallibility as a thermometer.

Diseases.--To this chapter we have the same objection to make, as to the one preceding it. It is sensible, and well written, but altogether speculative. The opinions are popular, and such as well-informed men in the west generally hold, except that too much is conceded to the reputed unhealthiness of the country. The belief of the sickliness of this climate, which was once so general, is now exploded, and later experience has shown that it is positively congenial to the human constitution, in a more than ordinary degree. That the natural increase of the population is greater than in most other countries, that man attains here his largest stature, and that human life reaches its utmost duration, are positions which we think will soon be established, in relation to the greatest portion of this valley. Every word that Mr. Flint says on this subject is strictly true, but his remarks are true in our opinion as exceptions, rather than as general facts; they are correct as applicable to sickly places, but we believe that such spots are comparatively few and small. When all the necessary allowances shall have been made for the privations and hardships endured by emigrants, for the effects produced by the change of climate and food, and for the various causes of disease attributed to the mode of life, rather than to the climate, we have no question that this country will be ranked among the most salubrious, and that the prairies of the west, will, in a few years, become to the continent of America, what the south of France is to Europe. The French settlers in Illinois, increased

rapidly, and, throughout a period of near century, enjoyed almost uninterrupted health. They found here a climate not greatly differing from their own; they were well clad, had good houses, and lived abstemiously. The Americans, who settled around them and among them, were uniformly sickly; and after their ingress, the "American bottom" acquired the character, which it still retains, of being unhealthy. The American settlers differed from the French in every respect. It would be easy to multiply examples of this kind, if the limits of this paper did not oblige us to pass on to other topics.

Trees and Shrubs.—This subject is treated in the author's best style, and is full of interest; for Mr. Flint is a genuine lover of nature. He has had the good sense not to dwell on this topic “as a professed naturalist," “but only to take popular views of the subject, which, after all, are best understood, most interesting, and most useful.” It belongs to the foppery of science, to mock our expectations by an array of learned barbarisms, understood only by the initiated; and we are often, while thus deluded with technical phrases, tempted to wonder with the honest tar, 6 why they can't call a horse, a horse.” We are all familiar with the willow, the poplar, and the oak, but few of us would know them under a Linnæan name; nor can we be expected to do so, when botanists themselves have adopted various nomenclatures.

The west is the paradise of trees and shrubs; the abundance and richness of the vegetation are a theme of standing remark. The soil is so fertile, and the climate so congenial to vegetable life, that every indigenous production attains its greatest size, and assumes the richest and deepest colours. Every admirer of nature who has travelled in the west, has remarked the vividness of the landscapes, the intenseness of the verdure, the gaudiness of the flowers, the depth or the brilliancy of every tint of the forest and the prairie. Mr. Flint is at home among these beautiful scenes, and we must let him speak of them. The following extract is from his description of the cypress-tree:

“These noble trees rear their straight columns from a large cone-shaped buttress, whose circumference at the ground, is, perhaps, three times that of the regular shaft of the tree. This cone rises from six to ten feet, with a regular and sharp taper, and from the apex of the cone towers the perpendicular column, with little taper, after it has left the cone, from sixty to eighty feet clear shaft. Very near its top, it begins to throw out multitudes of horizontal branches, which interlace with those of the adjoining trees, and when bare of leaves have an air of desolation and death, more easily felt than described. In the season of vegetation, the leaves are short, fine, and of a verdure so deep, as almost to seem brown, giving an indescribable air of funereal solemnity to this singular tree. A cypress forest, when viewed from the adjacent hills, with its nunberless interlaced arms, covered with this brown foliage, has the aspect of a scaffolding of verdure in the air. It grows, too, in deep and sickly swamps, the haunts of fever, musquitoes, mocasin snakes, alligators, and all loathsome and ferocious animals, that congregate far from the abodes of man, and seem to maše common

cause with nature against him. The cypress loves the deepest, most gloomy, inaccessible, and inundated swamps; and south of 33°, is generally found covered with sable festoons of long moss, hanging, as it were, a shroud of mourning wreaths alniost to the ground. It seems to flourish best where the water covers the roots for half the year. When it rises from eight or ten feet water of the overflow of the rivers, the apex of its buttress is just on a level with the surface of the water. It is then, in many places, that they cut it. The negroes surround the tree in periogues, and thus get at the tree, above the huge hard buttress, and fell it with comparative ease.”

In the following description, we have a rival for the celebrated walnut of the lakes, which has taken a trip to England :

“The sycamore is the king of the western forests. It flourishes alike in every part of the valley that we have seen. It is the largest tree of our woods, and rises in the most graceful forms, with vast, spreading, lateral branches, covered with a bark of a brilliant white. These hundred white arms of the sycamore, interlacing with the branches of the other forest trees, in the rich alluvions, where it delights to grow, adds one of the distinguishing traits of grandeur and beauty to the forest. A tree of this kind, near Marietta, measured fifteen feet and a half in diameter. We have seen one on the Big Miami, which we thought still larger. Judge Tucker of Missouri, cut off a section of the hollow trunk of a sycamore, applied a roof to it, and fitted it up for a study."

The cotton-wood, we are told, is of the poplar class, “and sometimes vies with the sycamore itself for predominance in size and grandeur.”

“ On the sand-bars and islands of the rivers, wherever the alluvial earth begins to deposite, there springs up a growth of cotton-wood, the young trees standing so thick, as to render it difficult for a bird to fly among them, and having to a person passing at a little distance on the river, a singular appearance of regularity, as though they had been put out to ornament a pleasure-ground.”

The far-famed magnolia, our author thinks has been overrated. “ The fragrance is indeed powerful, but, to us, sickly and offensive." In point of beauty, he gives the preference to the catalpa, the china-tree, and the bow-wood, all of which ornament this region of trees and flowers. We are sorry that we cannot follow him through the list which contains the names of several other trees peculiar to that region, some of which are said to be as striking in their appearance as those we have alluded to. The wild fruits are so numerous and so luscious, that the very description of them is enough to provoke appetite. Of the grape, we are told,

“Nothing is so familiar to the eye of a traveller in this country, as soon as lie enters on the richer lands, as to see vines, often of a prodigious size, that are perpendicularly attached at the top to branches, sixty or eighty feet from the ground, and at a great lateral distance from the trunk of the tree. It is a standing puzzle to a young man, first brought into these woods, to task his ingenuity, by putting him to account for the manner, in which a vine, perhaps nearly of the size of the human body, has been able to rear itself to such a height. There can be however no doubt, that the vine in this case is coeval with the tree; that the tree as it grew reared the vine ; and that the vine receded from the trunk, with the projection of the lateral branch, until in the lapse of time this singular appearance is presented.”

The cane, the gooseberry, the privet, and the hazle, are described as being indigenous to this valley.

The chapter on Herbs, Grasses, and Flowering Plants, contains accounts of some productions not generally known.

We pass over some thirty or forty pages on Animals, as these have been treated of more fully by other writers.

Rivers.-Under this head we have a long and very interesting account of the Mississippi river--the best, perhaps, that has ever been written.

It commences in many branches, that rise, for the most part, in wild rice lakes; but it traverses no great distance before it has become a broad stream. Sometimes in its beginnings it moves a wide expanse of waters, with a current scarcely perceptible, along a marshy bed. At others, its fishes are seen darting over a white sand, in waters almost as transparent as air. At other times, it is compressed to a narrow and rapid current, between ancient and hoary limestone bluffs. Having acquired, in a length of course following its meanders, of three hundred miles, a width of half a mile, and having formed its distinctive character, it precipitates its waters down the falls of St. Anthony. Thence it glides alternately through beautiful meadows and deep forests, swelling, in its advancing march, with the tribute of an hundred streams. In its progress, it receives a tributary, which of itself has a course of a thousand leagues. Thence it rolls with its accumulated, turbid, and sweeping mass of waters, through continued forests, only broken here and there by the axe, in lonely grandeur to the sea. No thinking mind can contemplate this mighty and resistless wave, sweeping in its proud course from point to point, curving round its bends, through the dark forests, without a feeling of sublimity. The hundred shores, laved by its waters; the long course of its tributaries, some of which are already the abodes of cultivation, and others pursuing an immense course, without a solitary dwelling of civilized man being seen on their banks; the numerous tribes of savages that now roam on its borders ; the affecting and imperishable traces of generations that are gone, leaving no other memorial of their existence, or materials for their history, than their tombs, which rise at frequent intervals along its banks; the dim, but glorious anticipations of the future ;-these are subjects of contemplation that cannot but associate themselves with the view of this river."

Our author pursues the Mississippi throughout its whole course, describing particularly all its peculiarities, which are numerous, tracing out the character of its shores, and noticing all its important tributaries. As this river forms the chief feature of the whole region, it deserves to have been thus elaborately sketched; and Mr. Flint has mingled, with great fidelity of detail, some masterly delineations of scenery.

Aborigines. The character of the Indian tribes, and the policy pursued towards them by the American government, are subjects about which little is known even in our own country. That they are a distinct race, with a mental and physical organization entirely different from the European family, is now no longer doubtful; but few have studied their habits sufficiently to inform us in what those specific differences consist. We do not complain of any lack of comments on the Indian character, for we have had these in abundance; but few of these disquisitions have been the result of personal observation, or have been characterized by a spirit of calm investigation. Mr. Flint's views are such as we had a right to expect from a Christian minister, and an American citizen; they are liberal, philosophical, and just ;

« PreviousContinue »