Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.

About this Item

Title
Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.
Author
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
Publication
New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press
1953.
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Pages

Page 10

Fragment: Niagara Falls1Jump to section

[c. September 25-30, 1848]

Niagara-Falls! By what mysterious power is it that millions and millions, are drawn from all parts of the world, to gaze upon Niagara Falls? There is no mystery about the thing itself. Every effect is just such as any inteligent man knowing the causes, would anticipate, without [seeing] it. If the water moving onward in a great river, reaches a point where there is a perpendicular jog, of a hundred feet in descent, in the bottom of the river,---it is plain the water will have a violent and continuous plunge at that point. It is also plain the water, thus plunging, will foam, and roar, and send up a mist, continuously, in which last, during sunshine, there will be perpetual rain-bows. The mere physical of Niagara Falls is only this. Yet this is really a very small part of that world's wonder. It's power to excite reflection, and emotion, is it's great charm. The geologist will demonstrate that the plunge, or fall, was once at Lake Ontario, and has worn it's way back to it's present position; he will ascertain how fast it is wearing now, and so get a basis for determining how long it has been wearing back from Lake Ontario, and finally demonstrate by it that this world is at least fourteen thousand years old. A philosopher of a slightly different turn will say Niagara Falls is only the lip of the basin out of which pours all the surplus water which rains down on two or three hundred thousand square miles of the earth's surface. He will estim[ate with] approximate accuracy, that five hundred thousand [to]ns of water, falls with it's full weight, a distance of a hundred feet each minute---thus exerting a force equal to the lifting of the same weight, through the same space, in the same time. And then the further reflection comes that this vast amount of water, constantly pouring down, is supplied by an equal amount constantly lifted up, by the sun; and still he says, ``If this much is lifted up, for this one space of two or three hundred thousand square miles, an equal amount must be lifted for every other equal space, and he is overwhelmed in the contemplation of the vast power the sun is constantly exerting in quiet, noiseless opperation of lifting water up to be rained down again.

But still there is more. It calls up the indefinite past. When Columbus first sought this continent---when Christ suffered on the cross---when Moses led Israel through the Red-Sea---nay, even, when Adam first came from the hand of his Maker---then as now, Niagara was roaring here. The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as

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ours do now. Co[n]temporary with the whole race of men, and older than the first man, Niagara is strong, and fresh to-day as ten thousand years ago. The Mammoth and Mastadon---now so long dead, that fragments of their monstrous bones, alone testify, that they ever lived, have gazed on Niagara. In that long---long time, never still for a single moment. Never dried, never froze, never slept, never rested,

Annotation

[1]   AD, DLC-RTL. The dating of this document by Nicolay and Hay [July 1, 1850?] has been rejected because the editors can find no reason for so dating it. The date, c. September 25-30, 1848, is based on two principal facts: (1) Lincoln visited Niagara Falls en route from Boston to Chicago, September 23-October 5, 1848; (2) the document is in appearance of paper and handwriting contemporary with the documents of speeches written in 1848 in Washington. The content suggests the sort of meditation and recapitulation of observations and reflections which would be psychologically apropos following a visit to the Falls, and one suspects that Lincoln's boat trip from Buffalo provided the leisure to begin, if not to conclude, the meditation. Nicolay and Hay entitle the piece ``Notes for a Lecture,'' but the subject itself should suffice. The manuscript stops abruptly with an unfinished sentence.

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