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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Landscape with Figures

By Ehrman Syme Nadal (1843–1922)

[Notes of a Professional Exile.—The Century Magazine. 1885–87.]

SHE was the daughter of a Quaker family whose farm-house overlooks Long Island Sound. They see at noon the cheerful blue of its glittering wave and the white rim of the distant shore. She was extremely pretty. She talked incessantly. But it did not seem like talking; conversation, or rather monologue, was her normal state of existence. It was only another sort of silence. I say that she was a Quaker. As a matter of fact I believe that her family had separated from the Quaker faith, but she was sufficiently near the Quaker character and mode of life. Her eloquence must have been derived from generations of preachers of that denomination. Her language, although truthful, was full and fluent. She read you with introvertive eye from the tablets of her mind numbers of thoughts, which seemed to my bewitched ears beautiful and original, upon poetry, art, books, people, etc. She repeated these in a voice the most charming I have ever listened to; poetical quotations sounded so very fine when she uttered them, as she did now and then, in her simple way. She even imparted a certain natural magic to the flinty metres of that pedant W——. She admired widely, and you yourself came in for a share of the lively interest with which she regarded creation. The air of wonder with which she listened to what you said excited your self-love to the highest pitch. I visited their farm-house twice. I remember an orchard near at hand which stretched along the crest of a broken hill. I saw this once when the spring had sent a quick wave of bright verdure over the sod cropped short by the cows. The orchard was cut into three or four small patches, but there was a break in each of the separating fences, so that from room to room you could walk the orchard floors. I went again later, one hot midsummer morning, when our path led to a wood through a blazing wheat-field, in which I stopped to pull a branch of wild roses. We came soon to a deep break on an abrupt hill-side, where, shut in by masses of dense and brilliantly painted greenery, moving incessantly with the forest zephyrs, and not far from a white dog-wood tree, we rested from the heat. I began to cut away the thorns from the branch of wild roses, an action which I was half conscious was mistaken. I had better have let her prick her fingers, for she said: “You can’t care for wild roses if you cut away the thorns.”

Another recollection I have—of walking along a country road-side in that twilight which is almost dark. The daughter of the Quakers wore a blue silk cape with long fringes. She was talking her “thees” and “thous” to a half-grown lad, her cousin, as if she were no better than other women. The tall white daisies, thickly sown by the road-side, wheeled and swam in ghostly silence. It seemed that the slight figure that stepped briskly before me had a cosmic might and force residing among and descended from those stars and planets which had begun to strew the black heavens.

The family to which this girl belonged seemed to me to be people who practised a very high order of civilization. She was the most obedient and dutiful of daughters; but for all that she seemed to dominate the whole connection, and the landscape too, I should say. Her liberty was so a part of herself that I could not imagine her without it….

There are some hills, mountains you might call them, to the west of this German town. Sometimes I walk in their direction about sundown, at which time their sides wear some fine colors. These mountains, a broad and well-cultivated plain, a flock of sheep met on the roadway, a few solitary kine driven by peasants, and here and there a little hamlet with its tinkling belfry, and a sweet and ample light over the whole, make up an agreeable view. I like the scenery about here better than most European scenery, far better than the pampered and petty scenery of England. But I miss everywhere I have been on this continent the sentient energy of nature in America, the dexterous and pliant mind which I saw in that country as a boy, and which I find again as often as I return there, the dazzling sword-play with which that invincible soul rains upon the underlying evening world the pride of its transcendent life. It is one of my regrets that my life has been passed away from that nature.

I say that what I saw in American scenery as a boy I find again whenever I return to it. During a short visit home a few summers ago I went to spend the night with some friends who live near West Point. It was upon a day such as is common in our semi-tropical summers. I had taken a late afternoon train from New York, and on arriving had but ten minutes in which to dress for dinner. My host had given me a room facing to the south. There was an airy and graceful combination of hills in view. I had little leisure to look out, but could see them as they ran upward in purple waves and filled the sky with their irresolute azure pathway; there lived among them a bird-like flight of outline, which soared, but did not depart, which, although infinitely evanescent, did not vanish, but remained. This scene, lying in the benign splendors of the golden South, and fraught with the fairest tropic color, bloomed beyond my open window.

A business errand took me northward along the Housatonic. The train follows for hours the line of the mountains, which run northward in waves, broken at long intervals, as if swept upward by the winds. I found those mountains as I had known them before. I saw them from the car-window, pondering in their lucent bosoms memories pure, vast, sedate, profound, in unison with the dewy stars and the streams that rest for a moment in the midst of the meadows, and seem to say, “We also remember.”