The symbol of that combined charm is that poppy of oblivion of which Sir Thomas Browne so movingly wrote: but, though along that old canal of which I am thinking and by which I walked a summer day, no poppies were growing, the freshest grass, the bluest flowers, the new-born rustling leafage of the innumerable trees, all alike seemed to whisper of forgetfulness, to be brooding, even thus in the very heyday of the mad young year, over time past. And this eloquently retrospective air of Nature made me realize, with something of the sense of discovery, how much of what we call antiquity is really a trick of Nature. She is as clever at the manufacture of antiques as some expert of “old masters.” A little moss here and there, a network of ivy, a judicious use of ferns and grass, a careless display of weeds and wild flowers, and in twenty years Nature can make a modern building look as if it dated from the Norman Conquest. I came upon this reflection because, actually, my canal is not very old, though from the way it impressed me, and from the manner in which I have introduced it, the reader might well imagine it as old as Venice and no younger than Holland, and may find it as hard to believe as I did that its age is but some eighty years, and that it has its romantic being between Newark Bay and Phillipsburg, on the Delaware River.
One has always to be careful not to give too much importance to one’s own associative fancies in regard to the names of places. To me, for instance, “Perth Amboy” has always had a romantic sound, and I believe that a certain majesty in the collocation of the two noble words would survive that visit to the place itself which I have been told is all that is necessary for disillusionment. On the other hand, for reasons less explainable, Hackensack, Paterson, Newark, and even Passaic are names that had touched me with no such romantic thrill. Wrongfully, no doubt, I had associated them with absurdity, anarchy, and railroads. Never having visited them, it was perhaps not surprising that I should not have associated them with such loveliness and luxury of Nature as I now unforgettably recall; and I cannot help feeling that in the case of places thus unfortunately named, Nature might well bring an action for damages, robbed as she thus undoubtedly is of a flock of worshippers.
At all events, I believe that my surprise and even incredulity will be understood when an artist friend of mine told me that by taking the Fort Lee ferry, and trolleying from the Palisades through Hackensack to Paterson, I might find—a dream canal. It was as though he had said that I had but to cross over to Hoboken to find the Well at the World’s End. But it was true, for all that—quite fairy-tale true. It was one of those surprises of peace, deep, ancient peace, in America, of which there are many, and of which more needs to be told. I can conceive of no more suggestive and piquant contrast than that of the old canal gliding through water-lilies and spreading pastures, in the bosom of hills clothed with trees that scatter the sunshine or gather the darkness, the haunt of every bird that sings or flashes strange plumage and is gone, gliding past flowering rushes and blue dragon-flies, not