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An Old Town By the Sea   By: (1836-1907)

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AN OLD TOWN BY THE SEA

by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

PISCATAQUA RIVER

Thou singest by the gleaming isles, By woods, and fields of corn, Thou singest, and the sunlight smiles Upon my birthday morn.

But I within a city, I, So full of vague unrest, Would almost give my life to lie An hour upon upon thy breast.

To let the wherry listless go, And, wrapt in dreamy joy, Dip, and surge idly to and fro, Like the red harbor buoy;

To sit in happy indolence, To rest upon the oars, And catch the heavy earthy scents That blow from summer shores;

To see the rounded sun go down, And with its parting fires Light up the windows of the town And burn the tapering spires;

And then to hear the muffled tolls From steeples slim and white, And watch, among the Isles of Shoals, The Beacon's orange light.

O River! flowing to the main Through woods, and fields of corn, Hear thou my longing and my pain This sunny birthday morn;

And take this song which fancy shapes To music like thine own, And sing it to the cliffs and capes And crags where I am known!

CONTENTS

I. CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH II. ALONG THE WATER SIDE III. A STROLL ABOUT TOWN IV. A STROLL ABOUT TOWN (continued) V. OLD STRAWBERRY BANK VI. SOME OLD PORTSMOUTH PROFILES VII. PERSONAL REMINISCENCES

INDEX OF NAMES

AN OLD TOWN BY THE SEA

I. CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH

I CALL it an old town, but it is only relatively old. When one reflects on the countless centuries that have gone to the for mation of this crust of earth on which we temporarily move, the most ancient cities on its surface seem merely things of the week before last. It was only the other day, then that is to say, in the month of June, 1603 that one Martin Pring, in the ship Speedwell, an enormous ship of nearly fifty tons burden, from Bristol, England, sailed up the Piscataqua River. The Speedwell, numbering thirty men, officers and crew, had for consort the Discoverer, of twenty six tons and thirteen men. After following the windings of "the brave river" for twelve miles or more, the two vessels turned back and put to sea again, having failed in the chief object of the expedition, which was to obtain a cargo of the medicinal sassafras tree, from the bark of which, as well known to our ancestors, could be distilled the Elixir of Life.

It was at some point on the left bank of the Piscataqua, three or four miles from the mouth of the river, that worthy Master Pring probably effected one of his several landings. The beautiful stream widens suddenly at this place, and the green banks, then covered with a network of strawberry vines, and sloping invitingly to the lip of the crystal water, must have won the tired mariners.

The explorers found themselves on the edge of a vast forest of oak, hemlock, maple, and pine; but they saw no sassafras trees to speak of, nor did they encounter what would have been infinitely less to their taste and red men. Here and there were discoverable the scattered ashes of fires where the Indians had encamped earlier in the spring; they were absent now, at the silvery falls, higher up the stream, where fish abounded at that season. The soft June breeze, laden with the delicate breath of wild flowers and the pungent odors of spruce and pine, ruffled the duplicate sky in the water; the new leaves lisped pleasantly in the tree tops, and the birds were singing as if they had gone mad. No ruder sound or movement of life disturbed the primeval solitude. Master Pring would scarcely recognize the spot were he to land there to day.

Eleven years afterwards a much cleverer man than the commander of the Speedwell dropped anchor in the Piscataqua Captain John Smith of famous memory. After slaying Turks in hand to hand combats, and doing all sorts of doughty deeds wherever he chanced to decorate the globe with his presence, he had come with two vessels to the fisheries on the rocky selvage of Maine, when curiosity, or perhaps a deeper motive, led him to examine the neighboring shore lines... Continue reading book >>




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