I woke up early yesterday morning–quite early, in fact, well before sunrise and well well well before I had any intention of getting out of bed–so I reached for my Kindle and looked for something to read. I landed on a short essay by Edgar Allan Poe, about a stream near Philadelphia. Called “Morning on the Wissahiccon”, I found it a fascinating little piece, parts of it appealing to me on a number of levels.
Indeed, in America generally, the traveller who would behold the finest landscapes, must seek them not by the railroad, nor by the steamboat, nor by the stage-coach, nor in his private carriage, nor yet even on horseback — but on foot. He must walk, he must leap ravines, he must risk his neck among precipices, or he must leave unseen the truest, the richest, and most unspeakable glories of the land.
Now in the greater portion of Europe no such necessity exists. In England it exists not at all. The merest dandy of a tourist may there visit every nook worth visiting without detriment to his silk stockings; so thoroughly known are all points of interest, and so well-arranged are the means of attaining them. This consideration has never been allowed its due weight, in comparisons of the natural scenery of the Old and New Worlds. The entire loveliness of the former is collated with only the most noted, and with by no means the most eminent items in the general loveliness of the latter.
I looked up the Wissahiccon, which is now more commonly spelled “Wissahickon”. It is a stream that rises north of Philadelphia and flows into the Schuylkill River (and then to the Delaware, Delaware Bay, and finally the Atlantic Ocean). I am unfamiliar with the Wissahiccon personally, though looking it up on the map I see that I have almost certainly ridden by it more than a few times, first many years ago when we were frequently traveling from home in NY to the Philly area to visit relatives, and more recently when we drove past its mouth at the Schuylkill as we drove through Philly to New Jersey for vacation.
Looking through some photos the last day, the Wissahiccon looks like exactly the kind of stream I love most: rocky, with occasional waterfalls and vestiges of very old industry now abandoned and returned to nature. As urban as this entire region is, the Wissahiccon has largely been allowed to remain parkland; I’m sure for people in the North Philly region and those suburbs, the Wissahiccon forms a lovely place for respite.
A singular exemplification of my remarks upon this head may be found in the Wissahiccon, a brook, (for more it can scarcely be called,) which empties itself into the Schuylkill, about six miles westward of Philadelphia. Now the Wissahiccon is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue, if, indeed, its banks were not parcelled off in lots, at an exorbitant price, as building-sites for the villas of the opulent. Yet it is only within a very few years that any one has more than heard of the Wissahiccon, while the broader and more navigable water into which it flows, has been long celebrated as one of the finest specimens of American river scenery. The Schuylkill, whose beauties have been much exaggerated, and whose banks, at least in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia, are marshy like those of the Delaware, is not at all comparable, as an object of picturesque interest, with the more humble and less notorious rivulet of which we speak.
Poe’s entire essay can be found here. I’ve always loved Poe as a writer, but even having read much of his poetry and his prose fiction, I’ve read very little of his essaying. Fascinating man, Edgar Allan Poe.