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Yankee Gypsies   By: (1807-1892)

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by John Greenleaf Whittier

"Here's to budgets, packs, and wallets; Here's to all the wandering train." BURNS.(1)

I CONFESS it, I am keenly sensitive to "skyey influences." (2) I profess no indifference to the movements of that capricious old gentleman known as the clerk of the weather. I cannot conceal my interest in the behavior of that patriarchal bird whose wooden similitude gyrates on the church spire. Winter proper is well enough. Let the thermometer go to zero if it will; so much the better, if thereby the very winds are frozen and unable to flap their stiff wings. Sounds of bells in the keen air, clear, musical, heart inspiring; quick tripping of fair moccasined feet on glittering ice pavements; bright eyes glancing above the uplifted muff like a sultana's behind the folds of her yashmak; (3) schoolboys coasting down street like mad Greenlanders; the cold brilliance of oblique sunbeams flashing back from wide surfaces of glittering snow, or blazing upon ice jewelry of tree and roof: there is nothing in all this to complain of. A storm of summer has its redeeming sublimities, its slow, upheaving mountains of cloud glooming in the western horizon like new created volcanoes, veined with fire, shattered by exploding thunders. Even the wild gales of the equinox have their varieties, sounds of wind shaken woods and waters, creak and clatter of sign and casement, hurricane puffs, and down rushing rain spouts. But this dull, dark autumn day of thaw and rain, when the very clouds seem too spiritless and languid to storm outright or take themselves out of the way of fair weather; wet beneath and above, reminding one of that rayless atmosphere of Dante's Third Circle, where the infernal Priessnitz(4) administers his hydropathic torment,

"A heavy, cursed, and relentless drench, The land it soaks is putrid;"

or rather, as everything animate and inanimate is seething in warm mist, suggesting the idea that Nature, grown old and rheumatic, is trying the efficacy of a Thomsonian steam box(5) on a grand scale; no sounds save the heavy plash of muddy feet on the pavements; the monotonous, melancholy drip from trees and roofs; the distressful gurgling of waterducts, swallowing the dirty amalgam of the gutters; a dim, leaden colored horizon of only a few yards in diameter, shutting down about one, beyond which nothing is visible save in faint line or dark projection; the ghost of a church spire or the eidolon of a chimney pot, he who can extract pleasurable emotions from the alembic of such a day has a trick of alchemy with which I am wholly unacquainted.

(1) From the closing air in The Jolly Beggars, a cantata. (2) "A breath thou art Servile to all the skyey influences, That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st Hourly afflict." Shakespeare: Measure for Measure, act III. scene 1. (3) "She turns and turns again, and carefully glances around her on all sides, to see that she is safe from the eyes of Mussulmans, and then suddenly withdrawing the yashmak she shines upon your heart and soul with all the pomp and might of her beauty." Kinglake's Eothen, chap. iii. In a note to Yashmak Kinglake explains that it is not a mere semi transparent veil, but thoroughly conceals all the features except the eyes: it is withdrawn by being pulled down. (4) Vincenz Priessnitz was the originator of the water cure. After experimenting upon himself and his neighbors he took up the profession of hydropathy and established baths at his native place, Grafenberg in Silesia, in 1829. He died in 1851. (5) Dr. Samuel Thomson, a New Hampshire physician, advocated the use of the steam bath as a restorer of system when diseased. He died in 1843 and left behind an autobiography ( Life and Medical Discoveries ) which contains a record of the persecutions he underwent... Continue reading book >>

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