The mentionable episodes of a Niagara Falls honeymoon are described in avowedly sentimental prose by John Chipman Hoadley (1818-1886) in a letter dated September 23, 1853 to his new sister-in-law Augusta Melville. Hoadley had just married Augusta's (and Herman's) younger sister the former Catherine Gansevoort Melville aka "Kate" on September 15, 1853 in Pittsfield, Mass. You might wonder like I did what Mr. Hoadley's new wife thought about his sharing such intimate details as "The Kiss of the whirlpool" and "The Kiss of the staircase." On the last page Mrs. Hoadley finally and audibly intervenes:
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, to write such nonsense!”
Kate's playful rebuke did cool down the verbal extravagance of her husband who closes the letter in a more matter-of-fact style. Indeed, if Augusta were at all inclined to find a deeper or more personal message of love in Hoadley's romantic flourishes, she would have been sadly discouraged by his asking that she "let Hatty read this," since otherwise Hoadley would have to write the same things all over again to his sister Harriet.
"If you will be kind enough to let Hatty read this, I will not write her what would be in great measure repetition."
In print, Hoadley's 1853 letter to Augusta Melville from Niagara Falls is liberally quoted by Hershel Parker in Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 2, 1851-1891 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) at page 181. The manuscript of Hoadley's honeymoon letter is available online in the digitized Augusta Melville papers, courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections. Citation:
Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Hoadley, John C." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1853 - 1863. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/59013100-4711-0136-060e-5dbf2ab19cf0
Transcribed in full below. Mistakes are mine, of course. Reader comments, corrections and improvements are always welcome.
Niagara Falls. Friday
Afternoon. Sept. 23, 1853.
My Dear Sister Augusta,
I am proud and happy to “recognize the new relation in which we stand,” with a borrowed grace, in language you have taught me. It is almost four O’clock.
Kate is asleep on the bed: I have been dozing in an arm chair, she to wear away a headache which she has had since morning, and I to recover from the fatigues of dinner. It has been a happy day for us, both; happy and memorable. Happy in spite of Kate’s headache and of my sympathy with it; memorable, although we have seen nothing to-day to charm the senses, or impress the imagination. Though yesterday, and the days before were solemn with the glories and grandeurs of Niagara and to-day has been hushed with the silence of our chamber, yet this day and not the days before, is happy and memorable, for to-day we have our first letters from home! Looked for most anxiously, they have come at last, and have been most eagerly and joyfully perused.
Thanks dear Augusta. I knew you would understand as I meant them those bagatelles that made up my letter. Many things that cannot be said, may be revealed by significant triflings. Deep currents of feeling, may be read by the foam on their surface. Great cataracts of emotion, may be indicated by the tree-like column and cloud of spray which soars into the stillness of heaven. Hidden shoals and quicksands of thought, may be traced in the answering cloud, which as over the banks of Newfoundland mirrors their form in the sky.
We left Buffalo at half past four on monday, and arrived here in about an hour thereafter. It rained hard during the trip, and, after a fine sunset, glowing in all the splendors of sun, and air, and watery vapor, at intervals during the evening; so that we were unable to catch a glimpse of the falls, and had to content ourselves as we could with listening to their evening anthem, & gazing while yet the light remained, upon their soaring spray. On tuesday evening I started early for a hasty reconnoiter, and after breakfast we went to-gether to Goat Island; gazing as we passed upon the busy waters that take no rest as they hasten on to their fate; upon the patient rocks that make no haste as they await their inevitable doom; upon the black and treacherous tree trunk, to which a shuddering victim clung so long, then was swept on to the abyss; upon the sorrowful trees, swirling as they came after the crushing weight of ice that bound them down in winter; upon the vast bridge beneath our feet, with frail timbers, and disjointed stones, spanning the torrent:-- glancing at all; up at the staid torrent that flowed down out of high mountains of cloud, down at the dizzy verge where the waters disappeared into the depths of the earth, around, at the wild, wild, scene where Earth, with its garniture of green, and its beautiful life, seemed nothing, sky nothing; and the mad destroying waters everything:— gazing at all, glancing at all, yet seeing nothing, comprehending nothing, we went onward to the island. You would have thought us two very prosy, commonplace mortals, however, had you seen us as we reached the end of the bridge pause, consult together a moment, while I examined my pockets with a result which seemed far from satisfactory, and then return with hasty steps, and looks preoccupied with humbler cares than cataracts, towards our Hotel.
Indeed, I had discovered before making the toll gate, that I had nothing in my pockets less than $20 notes, and returned to fill them with three cent pieces, half dimes, dimes, quarters, halves, &c to be used as amulets and charms against the spirits that infest the place, to the sore annoyance of the unobservant who neglect to propitiate them by their established rites. (rights, as they call them.)
Being well provided with the prescribed articles of sacrifice, and perfectly orthodox in our worship, we found the tutelary divinity quite propitious, and wandered unmolested where we chose. Turning to the left after passing the gate, we walked around the island, pausing, gazing, sometimes talking afterward gazing and listening in silence; sitting under the shade of a birch tree and looking steadfastly at the ceaselessly rushing water until we seemed standing on a plunging ship, cleaving with lifted prow the foaming tide; listening with closed eyes to the low deep peal, until we were transported to the side of the moaning sea; & straying on through groves which hid the water from our view, until we were buried in the peace of of all-soothing nature;— & so we wandered, loitered on, until we reached the brink of the Canadian or Horseshoe fall, and ascended the tower. Why attempt to describe the indescribable? to write, what one cannot altogether see, even while his eyes are swimming over it? to tell what we do not comprehend, though eloquent nature in solemn tones, utters it, with awful gusto in his ears? The strong rock stood beneath us, as if it would not one day be strowed in sifting sand in the deep bed of Ontario. The strong water leaped, as if it should never be buffetted by raging winds, and sleep on drenched sands, and heave to the secret influence of the moon in the fitful Atlantic.
The spray leapt to heaven, like a martyr’s soul, as if it should never descend in tearful rain. The milky foam ran deep and fair, as if it was never to bear navies on its bosom or lave the reeking shore. And two fond, foolish lovers looked and listened, and turned from all to gaze into each other's eyes as if their life, and love, and joy, were emblemed by the ceaseless stream, and steadfast rock, and ever rising spray, and not by the bubble, glittering an instant on the crest of the fall, by the pebble that yielded just now to the stream, the vapor that dissolved in the sun, just as it reached the sky.— Two fond, foolish lovers — and beside them rushed the stream and beneath them fell the cataract, and before them rose the spray, and around them swelled the song of the waterfall, and over them bent the cloud-hung sky, and upon their heads the sunlight was poured out like a blessing, and at their feet God’s rainbow lay like the promise of a path of joy — significant promise, born of the marriage of the light of heaven and the mists of Earth
Saturday morning. Sept. 24 —
Here my sentimental letter stumbled over the dull necessity of dressing for tea, and last night Kate wouldn’t let me write a word.
— Oh! What a mistake, I wanted him to write & he would not. Kate. —
There! Don’t you think I have imitated Kate’s hand writing admirably? I dare say she will tell you that she wrote it herself.
The Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge
To resume our explorations of the Falls. It rained
wednesdaytuesday afternoon and evening, but was fair again on thursdaywednesday morning, and taking a pair of ponies and a light waggon, we drove to the suspension bridge and across into Canada, first going down, however, to the whirlpool, and looking from the base of the precipice upon its gloomy waters. Kate corrects my summary. It was on tuesday afternoon that we took this drive, and it did not rain until evening.
After crossing the suspension bridge, 800 ft. long, hanging like a spider’s web 230 ft. above the surface of the stream running with amazing swiftness beneath us, we drove on for a mile through a beautiful country, and only turned homeward when the declining sun warned us, of the approach of night. I felt the sublimity of our position on the suspension bridge more on our return, than when we first crossed, having been then chiefly occupied with my horses. It made one giddy to feel that he was 400 ft. from shore on either hand, suspended by wires which were almost lost to the eye ere they rested on their piers with the height of a tall steeple beneath him to the water, and an equal depth of swirling water still below. Even the wild pidgeon might feel a shudder as he swept over on swift wing. On wednesday the morning was threatening, but the day proved fine, cloudy, cool, with a gentle, bracing breeze. Crossing at the Ferry, after a descent in the cars, we took a carriage on the Canadian shore (No. 45 – James Harris driver, a good, intelligent, obliging negro.) and were driven to “all the points of interest.” To the battle ground at Lundy’s Lane. To the burning spring. But chiefly, and more than all, along the rapids above the falls. Then we first began to feel in all its fullness the majesty of the scene. The steep descent, the breathless haste of the hurrying water, the vast breadth, seeming running upstream at our feet, and the dizzy waters waltzing before us, and the frowning precipices walling us in, and the lowering heaven streamed[?] flat [flap?] over the top like a sail, with every outward thing gloomy, and forbidding, and dark; but all lighted up with the new hope and joy within; and here was “The Kiss of the whirlpool.” —— At two, I had finished cutting K. M. H on the smooth bark of a linden, half way up the acclivity, and here was “The Kiss of the staircase.”
—— Kate says, as she looks over my shoulder, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, to write such nonsense!” So I suppose I ought, and you will please consider me becomingly ashamed.
Friday, we went in the omnibus down to the “Maid of the Mist,” with the intention of going up on her to the Falls, but found she was laid up for the season, and returned to the one o’clock dinner, which Kate was too unwell to go down to, having a bad headache. She is much better this morning. We start at 6 ½ this evening for Cleveland where we hope to arrive soon after midnight, via R. R. and where we intend to spend Sunday. On monday we go on to Cincinnati. There we will write you. I think you had better write next to Quebec, as we shall be there almost as soon as your letter can reach us, if you write immediately on receipt of this. If you will be kind enough to let Hatty read this, I will not write her what would be in great measure repetition.
With united love to Mother & to all our brothers & sisters, we are, ever affectionately, Yours,
J. C. Hoadley.
I was delighted to receive Fanny’s letter yesterday, it was most welcome. I was so anxious to hear from home. Do answer this immediately. with love to dear Mamma, Fanny, Helen, Lizzie, Herman, & kisses to the children I remain your affectionate sister Kate.
|The Falls of Niagara -- On The Brink|
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