List Of Contents | Contents of In the Wilderness, by Charles Dudley Warner
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related with unconsciousness that it was not common to all.  There
was nothing of the mystic or the sentimentalist, only a vivid
realism, in that nearness of God of which he spoke,--"as near some-
times as those trees,"--and of the holy voice, that, in a time of
inward struggle, had seemed to him to come from the depths of the
forest, saying, "Poor soul, I am the way."

In later years there was a "revival" in Keene Valley, the result of
which was a number of young "converts," whom Phelps seemed to regard
as a veteran might raw recruits, and to have his doubts what sort of
soldiers they would make.

"Waal, Jimmy," he said to one of them, "you've kindled a pretty good
fire with light wood.  That's what we do of a dark night in the
woods, you know but we do it just so as we can look around and find
the solid wood: so now put on your solid wood."

In the Sunday Bible classes of the period Phelps was a perpetual
anxiety to the others, who followed closely the printed lessons, and
beheld with alarm his discursive efforts to get into freer air and
light.  His remarks were the most refreshing part of the exercises,
but were outside of the safe path into which the others thought it
necessary to win him from his "speckerlations."  The class were one
day on the verses concerning "God's word" being "written on the
heart," and were keeping close to the shore, under the guidance of
"Barnes's Notes," when Old Phelps made a dive to the bottom, and
remarked that he had "thought a good deal about the expression,
'God's word written on the heart,' and had been asking himself how
that was to be done; and suddenly it occurred to him (having been
much interested lately in watching the work of a photographer) that,
when a photograph is going to be taken, all that has to be done is to
put the object in position, and the sun makes the picture; and so he
rather thought that all we had got to do was to put our hearts in
place, and God would do the writin'."

Phelps's theology, like his science, is first-hand.  In the woods,
one day, talk ran on the Trinity as being nowhere asserted as a
doctrine in the Bible, and some one suggested that the attempt to
pack these great and fluent mysteries into one word must always be
more or less unsatisfactory.  "Ye-es," droned Phelps: "I never could
see much speckerlation in that expression the Trinity.  Why, they'd a
good deal better say Legion."

The sentiment of the man about nature, or his poetic sensibility, was
frequently not to be distinguished from a natural religion, and was
always tinged with the devoutness of Wordsworth's verse.  Climbing
slowly one day up the Balcony,--he was more than usually calm and
slow,--he espied an exquisite fragile flower in the crevice of a
rock, in a very lonely spot.

It seems as if," he said, or rather dreamed out, it seems as if the
Creator had kept something just to look at himself."

To a lady whom he had taken to Chapel Pond (a retired but rather
uninteresting spot), and who expressed a little disappointment at its
tameness, saying, of this "Why, Mr. Phelps, the principal charm of
this place seems to be its loneliness,"

"Yes," he replied in gentle and lingering tones, and its nativeness.
It lies here just where it was born."

Rest and quiet had infinite attractions for him.  A secluded opening
in the woods was a "calm spot."  He told of seeing once, or rather
being in, a circular rainbow.  He stood on Indian Head, overlooking
the Lower Lake, so that he saw the whole bow in the sky and the lake,
and seemed to be in the midst of it; "only at one place there was an
indentation in it, where it rested on the lake, just enough to keep
it from rolling off."  This "resting" of the sphere seemed to give
him great comfort.

One Indian-summer morning in October, some ladies found the old man
sitting on his doorstep smoking a short pipe.

He gave no sign of recognition  except a twinkle of the eye, being
evidently quite in harmony with the peaceful day.  They stood there a
full minute before he opened his mouth: then he did not rise, but
slowly took his pipe from his mouth, and said in a dreamy way,
pointing towards the brook,--

"Do you see that tree?" indicating a maple almost denuded of leaves,
which lay like a yellow garment cast at its feet.  "I've been
watching that tree all the morning.  There hain't been a breath of
wind: but for hours the leaves have been falling, falling, just as
you see them now; and at last it's pretty much bare."  And after a
pause, pensively: "Waal, I suppose its hour had come."

This contemplative habit of Old Phelps is wholly unappreciated by his
neighbors; but it has been indulged in no inconsiderable part of his
life.  Rising after a time, he said, "Now I want you to go with me
and see my golden city I've talked so much about."  He led the way to
a hill-outlook, when suddenly, emerging from the forest, the
spectators saw revealed the winding valley and its stream.  He said
quietly, "There is my golden city."  Far below, at their feet, they
saw that vast assemblage of birches and "popples," yellow as gold in
the brooding noonday, and slender spires rising out of the glowing
mass.  Without another word, Phelps sat a long time in silent
content: it was to him, as Bunyan says, "a place desirous to be in."

Is this philosopher contented with what life has brought him?
Speaking of money one day, when we had asked him if he should do
differently if he had his life to live over again, he said, "Yes, but
not about money.  To have had hours such as I have had in these
mountains, and with such men as Dr. Bushnell and Dr. Shaw and Mr.
Twichell, and others I could name, is worth all the money the world
could give."  He read character very well, and took in accurately the
boy nature.  "Tom" (an irrepressible, rather overdone specimen),--"
Tom's a nice kind of a boy; but he's got to come up against a
snubbin'-post one of these days."--"Boys!" he once said: "you can't
git boys to take any kinder notice of scenery.  I never yet saw a boy
that would look a second time at a sunset.  Now, a girl will some
times; but even then it's instantaneous,--comes an goes like the
sunset.  As for me," still speaking of scenery, "these mountains
about here, that I see every day, are no more to me, in one sense,
than a man's farm is to him.  What mostly interests me now is when I
see some new freak or shape in the face of Nature."

In literature it may be said that Old Phelps prefers the best in the
very limited range that has been open to him.  Tennyson is his
favorite among poets an affinity explained by the fact that they are
both lotos-eaters.  Speaking of a lecture-room talk of Mr. Beecher's
which he had read, he said, "It filled my cup about as full as I
callerlate to have it: there was a good deal of truth in it, and some
poetry; waal, and a little spice, too.  We've got to have the spice,
you know."  He admired, for different reasons, a lecture by Greeley
that he once heard, into which so much knowledge of various kinds was
crowded that he said he "made a reg'lar gobble of it."  He was not
without discrimination, which he exercised upon the local preaching
when nothing better offered.  Of one sermon he said, "The man began
way back at the creation, and just preached right along down; and he
didn't say nothing, after all.  It just seemed to me as if he was
tryin' to git up a kind of a fix-up."

Old Phelps used words sometimes like algebraic signs, and had a habit
of making one do duty for a season together for all occasions.
"Speckerlation" and "callerlation" and "fix-up" are specimens of
words that were prolific in expression.  An unusual expression, or an
unusual article, would be charactcrized as a "kind of a scientific
literary git-up."

"What is the program for tomorrow?" I once asked him.  " Waal, I
callerlate, if they rig up the callerlation they callerlate on, we'll
go to the Boreas."  Starting out for a day's tramp in the woods, he
would ask whether we wanted to take a "reg'lar walk, or a random
scoot,"--the latter being a plunge into the pathless forest.  When he
was on such an expedition, and became entangled in dense brush, and
maybe a network of "slash" and swamp, he was like an old wizard, as
he looked here and there, seeking a way, peering into the tangle, or
withdrawing from a thicket, and muttering to himself, "There ain't no
speckerlation there."  And when the way became altogether
inscrutable,--"Waal, this is a reg'lar random scoot of a rigmarole."
As some one remarked, "The dictionary in his hands is like clay in
the hands of the potter."  A petrifaction was a kind of a hard-wood
chemical git-up."

There is no conceit, we are apt to say, like that born of isolation
from the world, and there are no such conceited people as those who
have lived all their lives in the woods.  Phelps was, however,
unsophisticated in his until the advent of strangers into his life,
who brought in literature and various other disturbing influences.  I
am sorry to say that the effect has been to take off something of the
bloom of his simplicity, and to elevate him into an oracle.  I
suppose this is inevitable as soon as one goes into print; and Phelps
has gone into print in the local papers.  He has been bitten with the
literary "git up."  Justly regarding most of the Adirondack
literature as a "perfect fizzle," he has himself projected a work,
and written much on the natural history of his region.  Long ago he
made a large map of the mountain country; and, until recent surveys,
it was the only one that could lay any claim to accuracy.  His
history is no doubt original in form, and unconventional in
expression.  Like most of the writers of the seventeenth century, and
the court ladies and gentlemen of the eighteenth century, he is an
independent speller.  Writing of his work on the Adirondacks, he
says, "If I should ever live to get this wonderful thing written, I
expect it will show one thing, if no more; and that is, that every
thing has an opposite.  I expect to show in this that literature has
an opposite, if I do not show any thing els.  We could not enjoy the

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