Front Page Titles (by Subject) LAKE GEORGE. - Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 3
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LAKE GEORGE. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 3 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 3.
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Everybody who has heard of American scenery has heard of Lake George. At one time I was afraid I should have to leave the States without having visited the lake of all others which I most desired to see; so many hinderances had fallen in the way of my plans. A few weeks before I left the country, however. I was fortunate enough to be included in a party of four, who made a trip to the Springs and the Lake. It was not in the fashionable season: and for this I was not sorry. I had seen the Virginia Springs and Rockaway in the plenitude of their fashionable glory: and two such exhibitions are enough for one Continent.
It was about noon on the 12th of May when we alighted shivering from the rail-car at Saratoga. We hastened to the Adelphi: and there found the author of Major Jack Downing's Letters, and two other gentlemen, reading the newspapers round a slove. We had but little time to spare; and as soon as we had warmed ourselves, and ascertained the dinner hour, we set forth to view the place, and taste the Congress Water. There is nothing to be seen but large white frame-houses, with handsome, piazzas, festooned with creepers.—(at this time only the sapless remains of the garlands of the last season). These houses and the wooden temple over the principal spring are all that is to be seen.—at least by the bodily eye. The imagination may amuse itself with conjuring up the place as it was less than half a century ago, when these springs bubbled up amidst the brush of the forest.—their qualities being; discovered by the path through the woods worn by the deer in their resort to it. In those days, the only edifices were a single log-hut and a bear-pound; a space enclosed with four high walls, with an extremely narrow entrance, where it was hoped that bears might get in during the dark hours, and be unable to find their way out again. Times are much changed now. There are no bears at Saratoga but a two-legged species from Europe, dropping in, one or two in a season, among the gentiy at the Springs.
The process of bottling the Congress Water was in full activity when we took our first draught of it. Though the utmost celerity is used, the water loses much of its virtue and briskness by bottling. The man and boy whom we saw filling and corking the bottles with a dexterity which only practice can give, are able to dispatch a hundred dozen per day. There are several other springs, shedding waters of various medicinal virtues: but, the Congress fountain is the only one from which the stranger would drink as a matter of taste.
The water-works are just at hand, looking like a giant's shower-bath. At the top of the eminence close by, there is a pleasure rail-road.—a circular track, on which elderly children may take a ride round and round in a self-moving chair; an amusement a step above the old merry-go-round in gravity and scientific pretension. But for its vicinity to some tracts of beautiful scenery. Saratoga must be a very dull place to persons shaken out of their domestic habits, and deprived of their usual occupations: and the beauties of the scenery must be sought, Saratoga Lake lying three miles, Glen's Falls eighteen, and Lake George twenty-seven miles from the Springs.
At dinner, Mr. R., the gentleman of our party, announced to us that he had been able to engage a pretty double gig, with a pair of brisk ponies, for ourselves, and a light cart for our luggage. The day was very cold for an open carriage; but it was not improbable that, before twenty-four hours were over, we might be panting with heat: and it was well to be provided with a carriage in which we might most easily explore the lake scenery, if we should be favoured with fine weather.
The cart preceded us. On the road, a large while snake made a prodigious spring from the grass at the driver, who, being thus challenged, was not slow in entering into combat with the creature. He jumped down, and stoned it for some time with much diligence, before it would he down so that he might drive over it. As we proceeded, the country became richer, and we had fine views of the heights which cluster round the infant Hudson, and of the Green Mountains of Vermont.
We were all astonished at the splendour of Glen's Falls. The full though narrow Hudson rushes along amidst enormous masses of rock, and leaps sixty feet down the chasms and precipices which occur in the passage, sweeping between dark banks of shelving rocks below, its current speckled with foam. The noise is so tremendous that I cannot conceive how people can fix their dwellings in the immediate neighbourhood. There is a long bridge over the roaring floods, which vibrates incessantly; and clusters of saw-mills deform the scene. There is stone-cutting as well as planking done at these mills. The fine black marble of the place is cut into slabs, and sent down to New York to be polished. It was the busiest scene that I saw near any water-power in America.
Lake George lies nine miles beyond Glen's Falls. We saw the lake while we were yet two miles from Caldwell, the pretty village at its southern extremity. It stretched blue among the mountains in the softening light; and we anticipated what our pleasures were to be, as we looked upon the framework of mountains in which this gem is set. We had just emerged from a long and severe winter. We had been walking streets in every stage of thaw; and it was many months since we had loitered about in the full enjoyment of open air and bright verdure, as we hoped to do here. This trip was to be a foretaste of a long summer and autumn of outdoor delights.
The people at the inn were busy cleaning, in preparation for summer company: but they gave us a welcome, and lodged and tended us well. Our windows and piazza commanded a fine view of the lake, (here just a mile broad,) of the opposite mountains, and of the white beach which sweeps round the southern extremity of the sheet of waters,—as transparent as the sea about the Bermudas.
As we had hoped, the next morning was sunny and warm. We employed it in exploring the ground about Fort William Henry, which stands on an eminence a little way back from the water, and is now merely an insignificant heap of ruins. The French and Indians used to pour down upon the settlements in the plains by the passes of the lakes Champlain and George; and near these passes were fought some of the severest battles recorded in American history. The mountain opposite our windows at the Lake House is called French Mountain, from its being the point where the French showed themselves on the bloody 8th of September, 1755, when three battles were fought in the neighbourhood on the same day. It was two years later, when the Marquis of Montcalm conducted an army of 10,000 men to invest Fort William Henry. Colonel Monroe, who held it for the British, was obliged, after a gallant defence, to capitulate. He marched out with 3000 men, and many women and children. The Indians attached to the French army committed outrages which it is thought the Marquis might have prevented. But it is probable that when the guilt of taking savages for allies in offensive warfare is once incurred, any amount of mischief may ensue, which no efforts of the commander can control. Every one knows the horrible story of Miss Mc Crea, the young lady who was on the way to be married to her lover in the British army, and was tomahawked and scalped by the Indians in whose charge she was travelling. During the recrimination between the commanders on this occasion, General Burgoyne explained his inability to control the movements of passionate savages: and it must be supposed that Montealm had no more power over the Indians who plundered and then murdered almost the whole number of the British who evacuated Fort William Henry. It was a horrible scene of butchery. We went over the ground, now waste and still, tangled with bushes, and inhabited only by birds and reptiles.
After wandering for some hours on the beach, and breaking our way through the thick groves which skirt it, dwelling upon the exquisite scene of the blue lake, with its tufted islands, shut in by mountains, we wished to find some place where we might obtain an equally good distant view, and yet enjoy the delights of the margin of the water. By climbing a fence, we got to a green bank, whence we could reach a log in the water; and here we basked, like a party of terrapins, till dinner—time. The foliage of the opposite woods, on French Mountain, seemed to make great progress under the summer warmth of this day; and by the next morning, the soft green tinge was perceptible on them, which, after the dry hardness of winter, is almost as beautiful as the full leaf.
After dinner, we took a drive along the western bank of the lake. The road wound in and out, up and down on the mountainous barrier of the waters; for there was no beach or other level. One of the beauties of Lake George is that the mountains slope down to its very margin. Our stout ponies dragged us up the steep ascents, and rattled us down on the other side in charming style; and we were so enchanted with the succession of views of new promontories and islands, and new aspects of the opposite mountains, that we should have liked to proceed while any light was left, and to have taken our chance for getting back safely. But Mr. R. pointed to the sinking sun, and reminded us that it was Saturday evening. If the people at the inn were Yankees, they would make a point of all the work of the establishment ceasing at sunset, according to the Sabbath customs of New England; and we must allow the hostler a quarter of an hour to put up the ponies. So we unwillingly turned, and reached Caldwell just as the shutters of the stores were in course of being put up, and the last rays of the sun were gushing out on either side the mountain in the rear of the village. At the Lake House, the painters were putting away their brushes, and the scrubbers emptying their pails; and by the time twilight drew on, the place was in a state of Sunday quietness. We had descried a church standing under the trees close by; and the girl who waited on us was asked what services there would be the next day. She told us that there was regular service during the summer season, when the place was full, but not at present: she added, “We have no regular preacher just now; but we have a man who can make a very smart prayer.”
The next day was spent in exploring the eastern side of the lake for some distance, on foot; and in sitting on a steep grassy bank under the pines, with our feet overhanging the clear waters glancing in the sun. Here we read and talked for some hours of a delicious summer Sunday. I spent part of the afternoon alone at the fort, amidst a scene of the profoundest stillness. I could trace my companions as they wound their way at a great distance, along the little white beaches, and through the pine groves: the boat in the cove swayed at the end of its tether, when the wind sent a ripple across its bows: the shadows stole up the mountain sides; and an aged labourer sauntered along the beach, with his axe on his shoulder, crossed the wooden bridge over a brook which flows into the lake, and disappeared in the pine grove to the left. All else was still as midnight. My companions did not know where I was, and were not likely to look in the direction where I was sitting: so when they came within hail,—that is, when from mites they began to look as big as children,—I sang as loud as possible to catch their attention. I saw them speak to each other, stop, and gaze over the lake. They thought it was the singing of fishermen; and it was rather a disappointment when they found it was only one of ourselves.
On the Monday we saw the lake to the best advantage by going upon it. We took boat, directly after breakfast, having a boy to row us;—a stout boy he must be; for he can row twenty—eight miles on the hottest summer's day. The length of the lake is thirty—six miles; a long pull for a rower; but accomplished by some who are accustomed to the effort. First, we went to Tea Island. I wish it had a better name; for it is a delicious spot, just big enough for a very lazy hermit to live in. There is a tea—house to look out from; and, far better, a few little reposing places on the margin,—recesses of rock and dry roots of trees, made to hide one's—self in for thought or dreaming. We dispersed; and one of us might have been seen by any one who rowed round the island, perched in every nook. The breezy side was cool, and musical with the waves. The other side was warm as July, and the waters so still that the cypress twigs we threw in seemed as if they did not mean to float away. Our boatman laid himself down to sleep, as a matter of course; thus bearing testimony to the charms of the island; for he evidently took for granted that we should stay some time. We allowed him a long nap, and then steered our course to Diamond Island. This gay handful of earth is not so beautiful as Tea Island, not being so well tufted with wood; but it is literally carpeted with Forget—me—not. You tread upon it as upon clover in a clover field.
We coasted the eastern shore as we returned, winning our way in the still sunshine, under walls of rock, overhung by projecting trees; and round promontories, across little bays, peeping into the glades of the shore, where not a dwelling is to be seen, and where the human foot seems never to have trod. What a wealth of beauty is there here, for future residents yet unborn! The transparency of the waters of this lake is its great peculiarity. It abounds with fish, especially fine red trout. It is the practice of the fishermen to select the prime fish from a shoal; and they always get the one they want. I can easily believe this; for I could see all that was going on in the deep water under our keel, when we were out of the wind; every ridge of pebbles, every tuft of weed, every whim of each fish's tail I could mark from my seat. The bottom seemed to be all pebbles where it was not too deep to be clearly seen. In some parts the lake is of unmeasured depth.
It was three o'clock before we returned; and, as it is not usual for visitors to spend six or seven hours of a morning on the lake, the good people at the Lake House had been for some time assuring one another that we must have been cast away. The kind—hearted landlady herself had twice been out on the top of the house to look abroad for our boat. I hope the other members of my party will be spared to visit this scene often again. I can hardly hope to do so; but they may be assured that I shall be with them in spirit: for the time will never come when my memory will not be occasionally treated with some flitting image of Lake George.