“sensations of astonishment & of delight”

In 2014 Louise North, a co-editor of In the Words of Women, published a delightful little book called The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston from which this blog has excerpted several passages. Having featured Ann Powell’s description of Niagara Falls in the previous post I thought it would be interesting to read what Mrs. Liston thought of that marvel of nature. Mrs. Liston had accompanied her husband Robert to the United States in 1796 when he was named British minister to the new nation. During her stay she kept a journal and wrote letters to her uncle in England describing the country and the people they met. In August 1799, the Listons visited Niagara Falls.

We were now within eight or nine miles of this fanfarred Wonder without hearing any noise from the Waters, though it is said, that when the Wind is in certain quarters the roaring of the Falls is heard at the distance of twenty or thirty miles; no sound reached us till within three miles.

The first part of this truly sublime & interesting object visible to us, was a thick vapour which rose beautifully up & seemed to mix with the Clouds. We quitted our Cart, & seeking our way—for we found no one to guide us—through the Woods & Fields, were led by the noise & the Spray to the first opening amongst the trees. The Sun was just near setting, & no Spectacle in the World could have so impressed us. Never, indeed, can I forget the sensations of astonishment & of delight, which I experienced at the first glance of this stupendous object, for it was a glance only, dimly perceived through the mist which envelloped it. The beauty of the rain bow, formed by the departing rays of the Sun, & extending from one fall to the other, blending its vivid colours with the sparkling of the water cannot be described. We stood enchanted, & could scarcely recover ourselves sufficiently to descend a steep Bank & travelling by an Indian Path, (that is a track for one at a time), through the Bushes, reached the Table Rock, a projecting point so called, from whence you have the first complete view of the Cataracts, & which is a part of that chain of rocks over which the Water precipitates itself.

The Cataract of Niagara is divided into two Falls by a beautiful little wooded island, the centre of which forms a line of division betwixt the British & the American Possessions. The whole breadth of the falls, including the Island, measures nearly a mile, the Island not occupying quite a fourth of this. The height does not exceed a hundred & forty or one hundred & fifty feet. These Cataracts assume very different characters, a part of that on the British side, forms a curve & is called the Horse Shoe; the Water appears like a Wall, & projects with so great a force as to be perfectly distinct from the rock over which it falls, & allows of your penetrating betwixt them, when you descend to the Bed of the River. a Gentleman well accustomed to the measurement of water, conceived from the experiments he made, that this Wall of Water was not less than twenty feet thick, & from its thickness it assumes a deep tinge of green. The Cataract on the American side, called Slusher, presents a foaming brilliant white Sheet. Both the falls receive a thousand different modifications & beautiful tints from the manner in which the Sun happens to strike upon them, from the State of the atmosphere, or the force of the Winds.

The great sublimity of this Scene proceeds, chiefly, from the immense Body of Water which precipitates over the rock. It is in fact the Mass of Water flowing from all the upper Lakes, or interior Seas of Canada. The Lake of the Woods, & Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, & Lake Erie, the North East end of which last, connects itself with Lake Ontario, by means of the river of Niagara, which is about thirty miles in length from Fort Erie to the Fort of Niagara, & forms a part of the boundary betwixt the United States of America & upper Canada.

Read on in the next post.

posted November 19th, 2015 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant, Niagara Falls, Travel


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