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That night was unusually mild and clear; and the young clergyman and I remained on deck long after the others had gone below; our talk was grave, but cheerful. There is something in the view of the material heavens at such a time, which always elevates the tone of feeling, and speaks to the heart of its highest hopes, sending you to rest with holy, happy thoughts: so it was with us. A few minutes before we parted, the bright full moon passed from behind a cloud, and straightway, from us to the far-off horizon, spread a track of pure and tremulous light over the calm sea. "This is not for us alone," said my companion; "every waking wanderer over the great deep sees this path of glory too. So for each earnest heart upraised to heaven, a light from God himself beams upon the narrow way across the waste of life."
The wind seemed to blow for ever from the west: the only variety in our voyage was from one tack to the other. But we had a good ship, she was well handled, and her master never threw away a chance; so, in spite of all difficulties, we found ourselves within a short distance of land twenty-four days after sailing. It is almost unnecessary to add that there was a fog, and that so thick that we could scarcely see the bowsprit. An observation had, however, been taken at midday, and, having great confidence in the knowledge of our exact position, we kept boldly on, till we distinctly heard breakers in front of us; by the time sail was shortened, we could hear this sound on either side. We were evidently in an indentation of the coast, quite near enough to the rocks to be unpleasant. Guns were fired for a pilot, and to give notice of our approach, and a report from the shore returned a ready answer. At the same time the fog began to rise, first showing the long line of surf on three sides of us, then the abrupt and rugged cliffs. At length, the great curtain folded itself up for another occasion, and the scene upon the stage was, Newfoundland.
The mind must be either above or below the usual motive influences of humanity, which does not feel a deep and stirring interest in the first view of the New World: though it be but a dim, faint shadow of what Plato's informant, or Prince Madoc, or Columbus, experienced, when the sight of these vast lands, and simple, yet mysterious people, rewarded their almost superhuman venture.
"The splendour and the havoc of the East" are said to fill the mind of the beholder with sad and solemn meditation on the glories and wonders of countries, whose degradation of to-day seems but the deeper from the relics of their former greatness: the cities and temples, of an extent and magnificence ever since unrivalled, crumbled into shapeless ruin, leaving scarce a trace of what they were; the sunny hills and pleasant valleys, exuberant with luxurious plenty, withered into deserts; the land where the wise men dwelt, and mighty captains governed, ruled over by craven, sensual slaves; the birthplace of an Eternal Hope, now but the grave of a departed glory. Over this page in the great chronicle of the world, is written the memory of the Past.
Then comes our Europe, with its very large towns, excellent gas-lamps, highly-efficient police, comfortable churches, with good stoves and ventilation; with its express trains, and well-regulated post-office,improved steam-boats, electric telegraphs, and electric agriculture, liberal education, and respectable governments. In all these we feel, and hear, and see, the reality of the Present.
Now, we turn to the West. Over its boundless tracts of rich and virgin soil is spreading a branch of the most vigorous among the European families, bearing with them every means and appliance which the accumulated ingenuity of ages can supply, and working them with quenchless energy. Steamers thrust themselves up unknown rivers; and lo! with the rapidity of a scenic change, the primeval forest yields to the bustling settlement.
In the tangled wilderness, where they can scarcely struggle through, the surveyors trace out the lines of cities, which, to-morrow, are to play the part of the Babylon of yesterday, and the London of to-day. They grow great, rich, and intelligent, not with the slow and steady step of older nations, but with a hurried stride; sometimes, perhaps, wandering a little from the straight path, but, guided by their destiny, still hastening on.
Imagination runs mad in picturing what they have yet to be. In their unacted history we read, plain as the hand-writing at Belshazzar's feast, the promise of the Future.
NEWFOUNDLAND THE ST. LAWRENCE.
So excellent was the land-fall we had made, that, when the fog cleared away, we found the bowsprit of the vessel pointing directly into the harbour of St. John's. The entrance is about two hundred and fifty yards wide, and very difficult of access in bad weather, or with unfavourable winds: it is walled in by rugged cliffs and barren-looking hills. The defences are respectable, but not formidable, works:—one of them faces you as you approach, with watchful cannon pointing up the harbour. There is no bar or shoal, but some dangerous rocks embarrass the entrance; within, there is safe and commodious anchorage for any amount of shipping.
In trying to describe St. John's, there is some difficulty in applying to it an adjective sufficiently