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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/419

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413
PETER KALM'S "TRAVELS"

PETER KALM'S "TRAVELS"
By SPENCER TROTTER

SWARTHMORE COLLEGE

A STUDENT of our early colonial history once remarked to me that we should have lived some two hundred years before our time, then we might have thoroughly enjoyed the country. By "country" he meant the natural, primitive condition of the land as it appeared to the first generation of Europeans born on its shores. It was far from being the inhospitable wilderness that their fathers had known. Homes of some comfort stood in the midst of cleared land; the fields yielded an abundant harvest; flourishing young towns and the king's highway gave to the new country a semblance of old-world civilization. And yet, withal, the ancient woods and the wild life were but a bow-shot from its door-steps.

This observation of my friend makes a strong appeal to the imagination of those of us who love simple ways and nature undisturbed. We may voice the poet's regret that

The world is too much with us,

but in truth it would doubtless be a great hardship if we should find ourselves, by some trick of a fairy godmother, back in those primitive days. A man's life is so largely made up of the things of the mind that it is the picture of the thing that makes for happiness far more than the reality.

The past is a fine canvas for our pictures. The pigments of fancy blend in pleasing effects, and distance in time as well as in space lends its enchantment. Many things are potent to suggest these pictures—the faded leaves of a diary, a bit of finery, the site of some long-forgotten house, an old book—trifles light as air that turn the hard lines of a modern scene into the soft, hazy light of the past.

The peculiar charm of an old book is the atmosphere that pervades it. Its pages may contain nothing of interest, even to the most curious reader, but with the lapse of time the dullest volume acquires a certain distinctive character. An old book breathes of the past; the scent of its stained and musty leaves penetrates into the dim chambers of the mind where fancy slumbers. And when fancy stirs and awakens its neighbor, long-forgotten memory, mayhap we have here the reason for this endearing quality of old things, for who knows what shreds of ancestral memories were wrapped in the bundle of our inheritances.