Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Illustrating the Mountains, III

Toccoa Falls, Georgia was a favorite subject for writers and illustrators employed by the popular magazines of the nineteenth century and I've turned up a surprising number of engravings published during that era.

One descriptive passage on Toccoa Falls and nearby Table Rock in South Carolina appeared as early as 1816 and was reprinted in many other books during the following decades:

It is very surprising that two of the greatest natural curiosities in the world, are within the United States, and yet scarcely known to the best informed of our geographers and naturalists. The one is a beautiful water-fall, in Franklin county, Georgia; the other, a stupendous precipice in Pendleton district, South Carolina; they are both faintly mentioned in the late edition of Morse's geography, but not as they merit. The Tuccoa fall is much higher than the falls of Niagara. The column of water is propelled beautifully over a perpendicular rock, and when the stream is full, it passes down the steep without being broken. All the prismatic effect seen at Niagara, illustrates the spray of Tuccoa.

The Table mountain in Pendleton district, South Carolina, is an awful precipice of 900 feet. Many persons reside within five, seven, or ten miles of this grand spectacle, who have never had the curiosity to visit it. It is now however occasionally visited by curious travellers and sometimes by men of science. Very few persons who have once passed a glimpse into-the almost boundless abyss, can again exercise sufficient fortitude, to approach the margin of the chasm.

Almost everyone, on looking over, involuntarily falls to the ground senseless, nerveless, and helpless; and would inevitably be precipitated, and dashed to atoms, were it not for the measures of caution and security, that have always been deemed indispensable to a safe indulgence of the curiosity of the visitor or spectator. Every one on proceeding to the spot, whence it is usual to gaze over the wonderful deep, has in his imagination a limitation, graduated by a reference to distances with which his eye has been familiar.

But in a moment, eternity, as it were, is presented to his astounded senses; and he is instantly overwhelmed. His whole system is no longer subject to his volition or his reason, and he falls like a mass of lead, obedient only to the common laws of mere matter. He then revives, and in a wild delirium surveys a scene, which for a while he is unable to define by description or limitation.

How strange is it that the Tuccoa falls and Table Mountain, are not more familiar to Americans! Either of them would distinguish any state or empire in Europe

I haven't been to Table Rock, but however entertaining the scenery itself might be...watching those who are watching the scenery would be even more entertaining...people involuntarily falling to the ground in a state of wild delirium!

In the era before landscape photography gained prominence, these engravings of Toccoa Falls and Table Rock were among the first views of the Southern Appalachians for many outsiders. Writers were eager to craft their own word pictures in the florid style of the period. In her Journal of a Tour in the United States, Canada and Mexico, Winefred, Lady Howard of Glossop, recounted a four-mile carriage ride from Toccoa to the falls on the bitterly cold afternoon of December 29, 1894:

I got out to walk, or rather scramble, along a path over great boulders covered with green-gold lichens and moss, the ground one sheet of snow-ice, shadowed by solemn ilexes and pines, skirting the river, till I reached a quite open space with semicircular background of vertical cliffs, 185 feet high, pine-crowned, glistening with huge, pendent, fantastic icicles—the Falls in the centre gracefully floating rather than falling in loveliest fairy-like clouds and wreaths of misty foam down the shining ice-wall on to a dazzling snow-heap of frosted silver: then winding their way into deep emerald- green whirling pools hemmed round by green-gold velvety rocks ice-bound—the whole glittering magical scene lighted into a glory of radiance by the scarlet and gold of sunset!

The cold was intense, and at last, rapidly turning into a pillar of ice, I tore myself away, and we drove back to the Hotel Simpson, where I spent a very pleasant evening in the warm little cosy parlour with my kind and agreeable hosts…

I’ll close with some verse composed by Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch (1809-1870) and published in 1834.


Hail, loveliest, purest scene!
How brightly mingling with the clear, blue sky,
Thy glancing wave arrests the upward eye,
Through thy grove's leafy screen.

Through thy transparent veil,
And wide around thee, Nature's grandest forms,
Rocks, built for ages to abide the storms,
Frown on the subject dale.

Fed by thy rapid stream,
In every crevice of that savage pile,
The living herbs in quiet beauty smile,
Lit by the sunny gleam.

And over all, that gush
Of rain-drops, sparkling to the noonday sun!
While ages round thee on their course have run,
Ceaseless thy waters rush.

I would not that the bow
With gorgeous hues should light thy virgin stream;
Better thy white and sun-lit foam should gleam
Thus, like unsullied snow.

Yes! thou hast seen the woods
Around, for centuries rise, decay, and die,
While thou hast poured thy endless current by,
To join the eternal floods.

The ages pass away,
Successive nations rise, and are forgot,
But on thy brilliant course thou pausest not,
'Mid thine unchanging spray.

When I have sunk to rest—
Thus wilt thou pass in calm sublimity,
Then be thy power to others, as to me,
On the deep soul impressed.

Here does a spirit dwell
Of gratitude, and contemplation high;
Holding deep union with eternity.-^
0 loveliest scene, farewell!

1 comment:

Duck Hunter said...

I live near Table Rock and have hiked to the top several times. It's true what they say! It's awesome!