Description of a trip to Niagara Falls in 1854

"Have you seen the Falls?"--"No." "Then you've seen nothing of America."

I might have seen Trenton Falls, Gennessee Falls, the Falls of Montmorenci and Lorette; but I had seen nothing if I had not seen the Falls (par excellence) of Niagara. There were divers reasons why my friends in the States were anxious that I should see Niagara. One was, as I was frequently told, that all I had seen, even to the "Prayer Eyes," would go for nothing on my return; for in England, America was supposed to be a vast tract of country containing one town--New York; and one astonishing natural phenomenon, called Niagara. "See New York, Quebec, and Niagara," was the direction I received when I started upon my travels. I never could make out how, but somehow or other, from my earliest infancy, I had been familiar with the name of Niagara, and, from the numerous pictures I had seen of it, I could, I suppose, have sketched a very accurate likeness of the Horse-shoe Fall. Since I landed at Portland, I had continually met with people who went into ecstatic raptures with Niagara; and after passing within sight of its spray, and within hearing of its roar--after seeing it the great centre of attraction to all persons of every class--my desire to see it for myself became absorbing. Numerous difficulties had arisen, and at one time I had reluctantly given up all hope of seeing it, when Mr. and Mrs. Walrence kindly said, that, if I would go with them, they would return to the east by way of Niagara.

Between the anticipation of this event, and the din of the rejoicings for the "capture of Sebastopol," I slept very little on the night before leaving Toronto, and was by no means sorry when the cold grey of dawn quenched the light of tar-barrels and gas-lamps. I crossed Lake Ontario in the iron steamer Peerless; the lake was rough as usual, and, after a promenade of two hours on the spray-drenched deck, I retired to the cabin, and spent some time in dreamily wondering whether Niagara itself would compensate for the discomforts of the journey thither. Captain D---- gravely informed me that there were "a good many cases" below, and I never saw people so deplorably sea-sick as in this steamer. An Indian officer who had crossed the Line seventeen times was sea-sick for the first time on Lake Ontario. The short, cross, chopping seas affect most people. The only persons in the saloon who were not discomposed by them were two tall school-girls, who seemed to have innumerable whispered confidences and secrets to confide to each other.

We touched the wharf at Niagara, a town on the British side of the Niagara river--"cars for Buffalo, all aboard,"--and just crossing a platform, we entered the Canada cars, and on the top of some frightful precipices, and round some terrific curves, we were whirled to the Clifton House at Niagara. I left the cars, and walked down the slope to the verge of the cliff; I forgot my friends, who had called me to the hotel to lunch--I forgot everything--for I was looking at the Falls of Niagara.

"No more than this!--what seem'd it now
By that far flood to stand?
A thousand streams of lovelier flow
Bathe my own mountain land,
And thence o'er waste and ocean track
Their wild sweet voices call'd me back.

They call'd me back to many a glade,
My childhood's haunt of play,
Where brightly 'mid the birchen shade
Their waters glanced away:
They call'd me with their thousand waves
Back to my fathers' hills and graves."

The feelings which Mrs. Hemans had attributed to Bruce at the source of the Nile, were mine as I took my first view of Niagara. The Horse-shoe Fall at some distance to my right was partially hidden, but directly in front of me were the American and Crescent Falls. The former is perfectly straight, and looked like a gigantic mill-weir. This resemblance is further heightened by an enormous wooden many-windowed fabric, said to be the largest paper-mill in the United States. A whole collection of mills disfigures this romantic spot, which has received the name of Manchester, and bids fair to become a thriving manufacturing town! Even on the British side, where one would have hoped for a better state of things, there is a great fungus growth of museums, curiosity-shops, taverns, and pagodas with shining tin cupolas. Not far from where I stood, the members of a picnic party were flirting and laughing hilariously, throwing chicken-bones and peach-stones over the cliff, drinking champagne and soda-water. Just as I had succeeded in attaining the proper degree of mental abstraction with which it is necessary to contemplate Niagara, a ragged drosky-driver came up, "Yer honour, may be ye're in want of a carriage? I'll take ye the whole round--Goat Island, Whirlpool, and Deil's Hole--for the matter of four dollars." Niagara made a matter of "a round," dollars, and cents, was too much for my equanimity; and in the hope of losing my feelings of disappointment, I went into the Clifton House, enduring a whole volley of requests from the half-tipsy drosky-drivers who thronged the doorway.