“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 255-260.
A FRIEND of mine, who had been for many years upon the Northwest boundary survey, returned at last to his native city. While upon the Pacific coast he had made the acquaintance of a young frontiersman — a youth who had been born on the Northwestern border of Missouri, and whose family, following the Western tide of emigration, had at last pitched tents in Oregon; while he, still impelled by the exploration-thirst, had wandered up into the remoter wildernesses of Puget Sound, on the extreme limits of Washington Territory.
My friend said he was a singularly well-informed man for one who had led such a wandering life in a bookless land. Every scrap of printed matter that fell in his way he perused with avidity, and being blessed with a memory “like wax to receive, like marble to retain,” whatever he read was firmly retained. Besides, he was of such an inquiring mind that whenever he met a stranger from the States, it would be curious indeed if he did not extract some information from him. Thus, by dint of these three faculties, he had acquired an astonishing knowledge of our Revolutionary history and the histories of the subsequent wars, and in many instances could cite with wonderful 256 accuracy and minuteness a detail of events connected with facts, dates, and persons, that might have put to the blush many a college-bred youth of his own age.
My friend the engineer, after his return to New York, kept up a correspondence with the Washington Territory frontiersman, and one day received a letter from the latter stating his intention to visit the great city. He had never seen a city in his life. The Aspinwall steamer in which he was expected arrived at last, and in the list of passengers was the name of the frontiersman. But he did not make his appearance at the house of his quondam friend until nightfall. By some chance he had wandered into Trinity Church-yard, and there passed the day.
After the customary salutations were over, “George,” said he, addressing the engineer, his eyes dilating with wonder as he spoke, “I have had my very soul moved this day with what I have seen.
“Sir, I have seen the tomb of Alexander Hamilton, the soldier, the patriot, the statesman! And beside it the modest stone that is set over the grave of his wife Eliza, who was the daughter of Philip Schuyler, one of Washington’s greatest generals. I have seen the monument of Albert Gallatin, one of the leaders in the Western whiskey insurrection, and afterward so worthy and tried an officer of our federal government. I saw there the tombstone of Michael Cresap, first Captain of the Rifle Battalion, who died in 1775 — ‘a son,’ so the inscription runs, ‘of Colonel Thomas Cresap.’ Surely can this be a son of the cruel Colonel Cresap who murdered in cold blood all the family of Logan, the friend of the white man, and 257 drew forth the famous message to Lord Dunmore from that warrior: ‘There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature! This called on me for revenge. I have fought for it. I have killed many. I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace — but do not harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? No one!’
“It seemed to me,” said the frontiersman, “as I read the inscription upon the stone of Captain Cresap, as if the blood of Logan was crying to me from the ground. Near that stood an altar-shaped tomb, on which was an inscription which filled me with awe and reverence. O! what simplicity was there, what filial tenderness, what resignation, and what faith! As if the overcharged heart could but repeat the beloved name, and the certain hope of the hereafter: —
No other words were there. As I read the inscription, I could almost fancy the sound of the trumpet echoing through space, and the heavens opening.
“Near to this tomb,” continued the frontiersman, “I saw another that recalled to my mind Gray’s Elegy: —
This marble monument had once been very elegant, but it had fallen into decay; the railing around it was choked 258 with weeds and dropping to pieces with rust; the inscription itself had scaled off so as to be no longer readable; the sepulchral urn that had formerly crowned the summit of the structure was now broken from the pedestal, and thrust into the arch that ornamented the upper part of the tomb, looked like a head that had been decapitated. Near to that, was the beautiful tribute to the memory of the hero, Captain James Lawrence, of the frigate Chesapeake; on one end of it his dying words: ‘Don’t give up the ship!’
“But the saddest of all was the tombstone of the eight little children of John and Ellie Lewis, recording that they died within a few years of each other — the eldest being only four years old, and the youngest four months. And although they died so long ago that the youngest, if it had lived, would have been a very elderly person now, yet they died in their youth; and so the tears stood in my eyes as I thought of the poor, bereaved mother and her sorrowing helpmate mourning for their little ones seventy years ago. There is something immortal like in the memory of the death of a child. You know I lost my first boy, and that sorrow will never pass away.
“Among the tombs, many were dated nearly a century and a half ago. I suppose these things are familiar to you, but to me, who never saw anything made or executed by human hands more than twenty years old, they were the first that I had ever seen of that strange world of which I had read so often — the world of the past.”
It was strange to think of this Western man regarding the monuments in Trinity Church-yard with the same feelings that we would look upon the Parthenon, or the Pyramids, or the Sphinx, or on the columns of Luxor!259
“Remember,” said my friend the engineer, “that this man, who was so wonder-struck at the antiquity of the church-yard at the head of Wall Street, had often seen in the forest of Oregon trees as old at least as the Pyramids, and a quarter as old as we Christians reckon the globe to be.”
But inanimate things, to awaken human interest, must possess in themselves some traditional connection with humanity. The trees in the forest of Oregon may be even older than the cedars of Lebanon, but they do not recall the splendors of the court of Solomon, nor the armed hosts of Crusaders, who reposed under the spreading branches of the latter when the Cross and the Crescent contended for possession of the holy walls of Jerusalem!