Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Inland African Scenery
By Brantz Mayer (18091879)
[Born in Baltimore, Md., 1809. Died there, 1879. Captain Canot; or, Twenty Years of an African Slaver. 1854.]
IN the six hundred miles I traversed, whilst absent from the coast, my memory, after twenty-six years, leads me, from beginning to end, through an almost continuous forest-path. We struck a trail when we started, and we left it when we came home. It was rare, indeed, to encounter a cross-road, except when it led to neighboring villages, water, or cultivated fields. So dense was the forest foliage, that we often walked for hours in shade without a glimpse of the sun. The emerald light that penetrated the wood bathed everything it touched with mellow refreshment. But we were repaid for this partial bliss by intense suffering when we came forth from the sanctuary into the bare valleys, the arid barrancas, and marshy savannas of an open region. There, the red eye of the African sun glared with merciless fervor. Everything reflected its rays. They struck us like lances from above, from below, from the sides, from the rocks, from the fields, from the stunted herbage, from the bushes. All was glare! Our eyes seemed to simmer in their sockets. Whenever the path followed the channel of a brook, whose dried torrents left bare the scorched and broken rocks, our feet fled from the ravine as from heated iron. Frequently we entered extensive prairies, covered with blades of sword-grass, tall as our heads, whose jagged edges tore us like saws, though we protected our faces with masks of wattled willows. And yet, after all these discomforts, how often are my dreams haunted, by charming pictures of natural scenery that have fastened themselves forever in my memory!
As the traveller along the coast turns the prow of his canoe through the surf, and crosses the angry bar that guards the mouth of an African river, he suddenly finds himself moving calmly onward between sedgy shores, buried in mangroves. Presently, the scene expands in the unruffled mirror of a deep, majestic stream. Its lofty banks are covered by innumerable varieties of the tallest forest trees, from whose summits a trailing net-work of vines and flowers floats down and sweeps the passing current. A stranger who beholds this scenery for the first time is struck by the immense size, the prolific abundance, and gorgeous verdure of everything. Leaves, large enough for garments, lie piled and motionless in the lazy air. The bamboo and cane shake their slender spears and pennant leaves as the stream ripples among their roots. Beneath the massive trunks of forest trees, the country opens; and, in vistas through the wood, the traveller sees innumerable fields lying fallow in grass, or waving with harvests of rice and cassava, broken by golden clusters of Indian corn. Anon, groups of oranges, lemons, coffee-trees, plantains and bananas, are crossed by the tall stems of cocoas, and arched by the broad and drooping coronals of royal palm. Beyond this, capping the summit of a hill, may be seen the conical huts of natives, bordered by fresh pastures dotted with flocks of sheep and goats, or covered by numbers of the sleekest cattle. As you leave the coast, and shoot round the river-curves of this fragrant wilderness teeming with flowers, vocal with birds, and gay with their radiant plumage, you plunge into the interior, where the rising country slowly expands into hills and mountains.
The forest is varied. Sometimes it is a matted pile of tree, vine, and bramble, obscuring everything, and impervious save with knife and hatchet. At others, it is a Gothic temple. The sward spreads openly for miles on every side, while, from its even surface, the trunks of straight and massive trees rise to a prodigious height, clear from every obstruction, till their gigantic limbs, like the capitals of columns, mingle their foliage in a roof of perpetual verdure.
At length the hills are reached, and the lowland heat is tempered by mountain freshness. The scene that may be beheld from almost any elevation is always beautiful, and sometimes grand. Forest, of course, prevails; yet, with a glass, and often by the unaided eye, gentle hills, swelling from the wooded landscape, may be seen covered with native huts, whose neighborhood is checkered with patches of sward and cultivation, and enclosed by massive belts of primeval wildness. Such is commonly the westward view; but north and east, as far as vision extends, noble outlines of hill and mountain may be traced against the sky, lapping each other with their mighty folds, until they fade away in the azure horizon.
When a view like this is beheld at morning, in the neighborhood of rivers, a dense mist will be observed lying beneath the spectator in a solid stratum, refracting the light now breaking from the east. Here and there, in this lake of vapor, the tops of hills peer up like green islands in a golden sea. But, ere you have time to let fancy run riot, the cloud compelling orb lifts its disc over the mountains, and the fogs of the valley, like ghosts at cock-crow, flit from the dells they have haunted since nightfall. Presently, the sun is out in his terrible splendor. Africa unveils to her master, and the blue sky and green forest blaze and quiver with his beams.