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FOR FEBRUARY, 1816.
Art. I. Travels to the Source of the Missouri River, and across the
American Continent to the Pacific Ocean. Performed by Order of the Government of the United States, in the Years 1807, 1805, and 1806. By Captains Lewis and Clarke. Published from the Official Report, and illustrated by a Map of the Route, and other Maps. 4to. pp. 663. Price 21. 12s 6d. Longman and Co. 1814.
[Second Edition, 3 vols. 8vo. price 21. 2s. 1815.] A BRIEF journal of this great enterprise, was given to the
world several years since by Patrick Gass, a sergeant-in the expedition. Nothing bearing such plain marks of truth, could be less satisfactory than that dry, meagre narration, which, nevertheless, as the official journal was to be so long delayed, the sergeant's friends were perfectly right in persuading him to publish. It has served at once to excite expectation, and to . keep it within sober limitș. The readers of Gass could not know exactly what, and how much, Lewis and Clarke would have to tell, but they could judge, in many respects, what they would not have to tell. They would especially perceive, what indeed they might beforehand have apprehended, from the very nature of the undertaking, that, with very many curious and interesting matters, there must nevertheless be great uniformity of narrative and description.
One cause of the long delay of the appearance of the large and authorized work now before us, was the tragical death of Captain Lewis, to whom the task of composing had been assigned*. The unfinished labour was then transferred to Captain Clarke, who carried it forward to the conclusion.
As it is the regular record of the transactions of not much less than a thousand days of most active exertion, there is no wonder it should fill a large closely-printed volume; a quantity of composition large enough almost to be drawn off into a shelt
* He destroyed himself, if we recollect right, at New Orleans. From what cause, the American account which we saw of the fact, did not mention. Vol. V. N. S.
full of volumes in the typographic style of duodecimo romance. The sort of rough, masculine magnitude and dignity of the subject, seems to have kept aloof the book-making arts. The material elements of the book are quite plain; the language also is plain; the business is related in a straight forward manner, and leaves no room, and indeed betrays no taste, for any of those crude pomposities which are somewhat too incident to American composition, especially on matters connected with the honour of the country. And this plain propriety of style is fully the merit of the writers, the reviser of this English reprint avowing, that his corrections are of the most inconsiderable kind, not in the least affecting the general structure of the language.
At a future time, when commodious trading stations, well stored with provisions, shall be established along the whole route to the Pacific Ocean, when every contrivance shall have been brought into effect for facilitating the navigation of the Missouri, when all the Indian tribes shall have been intimidated or diminished into a state to make them obsequious to the inasters of the Continent, it will become possible for a travelling party to carry with them that most desirable luxury, an accomplished draughtsman, whose hands shall never be summoned to any rougher service than that of handling the pencil, and whose accommodation shall be particularly and formally provided for. European curiosity may then be gratified with accurate representations of the various physiognomy of the Aborigines, of the shapes of the subordinate wild animals, of the vegetable singularities, and of those sublime spectacles beheld by the American party at the falls of the Missouri, and in the passes of the Rocky Mountains. The natural philosopher too may then take his share in the expedition, without a very severe sacrifice of his convenience, and without exciting the invidious feel-ings of the coarser labourers in the enterprise. But, in an expedition to be prosecuted through an infinity of inevitable toils and hardships, and among a band of men exactly fitted for such a service, it may be apprehended that gentlemen of a more refined cast, and whose occupations, however assiduous, would contribute nothing to the direct business and accommodation of the expedition, would be severely oppressed by its rugged fortunes, and not at all times cordially respected and assisted by its rough boatmen and bunters.
This is one of the grandest of the achievements that have laid open the unknown parts of the globe. To take no account of the immense distance some of the party had to travel, to reach the starting place at the confluence of the Mississipi and Missouri, they were destined, at setting out from that poin 1,t omake a progressive movement to the amount of nearly nine thousand miles before they were to see it again. Add to this, all the lateral excursions and traverses made in hunting, and in the examination, which they prosecuted with a most meritorious and indefatigable industry, of the country to some distance along many of the rivers which fall into the Missouri. It may fairly be assumed as certain, that a very large proportion of this enormous space had never before been ma with the footsteps, nor beheld by the eyes of any mortal, belonging to the civilized tribes of mankind.
Had it been possible for a man of philosophic and imaginative spirit, to accompany such an expedition, in such a manner as to bave his perceptions and reflections uninterrupted by its bustle, and by the character of the adventurers,-rather we should say, had it been possible for such a man to travel alone, he would have felt a certain mysterious and solemn impression in beholding vast regions which no reflective being in a human form had looked upon since the beginning of time. What an originality of expression, in what Nature would have to say for the first time to a being that could comprehend her! It would have seemed as if all those dietates, those mysterious notices, those sublime illusions, those monitions of the shortness of human life, those intimations of a Deity, which there had not been a succession of perceptive intelligences to receive, had been reserved to come with inconceivable augmentation of emphasis on bim. How every stream, and rock, and mountain, would seem charged with the accumulated significance of thousands of
! Or would be rather, with pensive and humbling emotion, feel as if man were unnecessary and of no consequence in these Fast regions ; as it the immensity of scene rendered him contemptible in his littleness; as if the majesty of Nature repelled him from all communion, preferring the gloom of an eternal solitude, scarcely disturbed by wild beasts and a few wild men, to the intrusive impertinence of research and admiration; as if the grand operation of the elements had no relation to his concerns; as if, in short, the sublimities of nature had an economy so eptirely their own, that the annihilation of him and of all his race, would be a circumstance infinitely indiflerent to it?
It is now in vain to regret, that the first bold intrusion on a region veiled from the inspection of civilized man ever since the creation, could not have been accompanied with, or preceded by a spirit of this refined temperament. We must be content to hope that some time or other, long before these regions shall have lost their striking originality of character, in roads, farms, manufactories, and all the familiar aspects of an appropriated, divided, settled, and cultivated country, there will be found some adventurers of poetic genius and profound
thought, to take the full impression of the loneliness, the vastness, the unsubdued, unviolated appearance, and the grandeur in parts, of this western world. And, as to many wide tracts, there will be time enough; for centuries must pass away before some of them can be occupied or familiarly traversed by men of the civilized race.
Several of the objects and localities in the line of this expedition, are such as can suffer no modification of their character, no diminution of their power of exciting awe and admiration, by any thing that man can ever do. They will remain ever dissociated from every thing that may approach them, or intrude upon them; and maintain the alien sublimity, if we may so express it, of Nature, though the busy hum' of towns, the bustle of traffic, and all the littlenesses and vulgarities of a numerous population, may occupy their precincts.
During the course of these perhaps rather fantastic observations, we have not forgotten that even the most visionary traveller, would be far enough from being visionary always. We have been imagining his impressions and musings such as they might be, could we suppose him borne calmly and somewhat rapidly through the air, so much at his ease, as to the corporeal part of his being, that his mind could give itself, in full sensibility, and unrepressed action, to the elements, and phenomena, and influences, of the vast wilderness, and have such facility of loco-motion, that whenever his feelings were sinking into torpor under the influence of a widely-extended monotony of scene, he could be carried forward to a varied locality. But let the travelling sensitive enthusiast have to creep slowly on, for many days or weeks, through a dead sameness of scene, never-ceasing sand-bars in the rivers, and on either side low insignificant hills, or bare wide plains; with coarsely furnished viands; with rude accommodations for indulging, as the shadows of his waking visions, the dreams of the night; with the rigours of winter and the mosquitos of summer ;-in short, let him traverse this immensity of desert in any manner in which it will actually be passable till it shall in a considerable degree have lost its desert character, and therefore lost precisely that of wbich he wishes to take the strongest impression ;-and it would only be at auspicious moments, at intervals possibly rather brief and far asunder, that he would feel his mind enchanted into reveries and abstractions, into exquisite perceptions, deep thoughts, or lofty imaginations. However reluctant or indignant he might be to yield to the power of circumstances and the weight of the material part of his composition, he would be doomed too often to feel himself reduced to a state not so very proudly superior in point of mental power to that of the rough hunters