Tuesday, August 29, 2006

meditating in the dark: Emerson's journal, 8/29/1823

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Here's more from Emerson's travel diary about his walk to western Massachusetts. This one describes his stay in the Amherst area, written a week or so later.
Friday morning [August 29] we went in a chaise in pursuit of a lead mine said to lie about five miles off, which we found after great and indefatigable search. We tied our horse and descended, by direction, into a somewhat steep glen, at the bottom of which we found the covered entrance of a little canal about five feet wide. Into this artificial cavern we fired a gun to call out the miner from within. The report was long and loudly echoed and after a weary interval we discerned a boat with lamps lighted on its side issuing from this dreary abode. We welcomed the miner to the light of the sun, and leaving our hats without, and binding our heads, we lay down in the boat and were immediately introduced to a cave varying in height from four to six and eight feet, hollowed in a pretty soft sandstone through which the water continually drops. When we lost the light of the entrance and saw only this gloomy passage by the light of lamps, it required no effort of the imagination to believe we were leaving the world, and our smutty ferryman was a true Charon.

After sailing a few hundred feet, the vault grew higher and wider overhead, and there was a considerable trickling of water on our left; this was the ventilator of the mine and reaches up to the surface of the earth. We continued to advance in this manner for 900 feet, and then got out of the boat and walked on planks a little way to the end of this excavation. Here we expected to find the lead vein, and the operations of the subterranean man, but were sadly disappointed. He had been digging through this stone for 12 years, and has not yet discovered any lead at all. Indications of lead at the surface led some Boston gentlemen to set this man at work, in the expectation that after cutting his dark canal for 1000 feet, he would reach the vein, and the canal would then draw off the water which prevented them from digging from above. As yet he has found no lead, but, as he gamely observed, 'has reached some excellent granite.' In this part of the work he has forty dollars for every foot he advances and it occupies him ten days to earn this.

He has advanced 975 feet, and spends his days, winter and summer,alone in this damp and silent tomb. He says the place is excellent for meditation; and that he sees no goblins. Many visitors come to his dark residence, and pay him a shilling apiece for the sight. A young man, he said, came the day before us, who after going in a little way was taken with terror and said he felt faint, and returned. Said miner is a brawny person, and discreet withal; has a wife and lives near the hole. All his excavations are performed by successive blasting.

In the afternoon I set out on my way to Greenfield, intending to pass the Sabbath with George Ripley. Mr. Strong insisted on carrying me to Hatfield, and thence I passed, chiefly on foot, through Whately and Deerfield over sands and pine barrens, and across Green River to Greenfield, and did not arrive there till after ten o'clock and found both taverns shut up. I should have staid in Deerfield if Mr. S. had not ridiculed the idea of getting to Greenfield that night.

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