The Ladies' repository: a monthly periodical,
devoted to literature, arts, and religion. / Volume 23, Issue 11, Nov
1863, pp.669-671 (via MOA at University of Michigan)
by B. F. De Costa.
"How dizzy 't is to cast one's
eyes so low!
The crows and choughs, that wing the midway air,
Show scarce so gross as beetles;
The fishlermen that walk upon the beech
Appear like mice, and yon tall, anchoring bark
Diminished to her cock—her cock a buoy
Almost too small for sight."
At the Highlands of Truro, perched upon the summit
of the precipitous cliff, stands the light-house. This is the ultima thule of Massachusetts. Here
mariner, shaping his course for the Old World, bids farewell to the
New, while the friendly beacon, brighter than ancient Pharos, hurls
over the sea its broad beam of light, to illuminate his departure, and
again, when homeward bound, to welcome his return. The cliffs are not
as in the eleventh century, when the little
bark of that adventurous Northman, Thowald Ericson, tossed within their
shade, nor when, six centuries later, they rose to Gosnold's view a
"mighty headland;" yet they are still lofty enough to
inspire the vertigo.
But ascend the spiral staircase of the lighthouse,
and climb into the
lantern, which is nothing less than a little crystal palace, full of
optical illusions and bursting with prismatic splendor, and from
this lofty outlook survey the surround ing prospect. To-day
the sea is enjoying a brief respite from its customary hydrophobia.
The waves roll gently up the beach, and sink down upon the sand,
as if weary with their long march across the Atlantic. In the offing is
a large fleet of fishing schooners standing slowly away toward Cape
Ann; and the tall and stately ship goes idling on her way to India,
careless of time and the rich lading. Landward the same quiet prevails.
Far and wide the
landscape wears a gray and somber aspect. Nature is lost in a brown
study. A narrow strip of Massachusetts Bay stretches along the inner
side of the Cape like a blue ribbon, which combines with the incipient
greenness of a few
patches of cultivated pines to relieve the monotone, while the white
sand-hills toward the north file solemnly away in ghostly procession,
till lost in the distance. Six miles westward, beyond Cape Harbor, may
be seen the quaint old town of Provincetown, whose prosperity,
come from the sea. In the middle distance, and almost hid from view in
a valley scooped out by Pre-Adamite floods, lies Pond Village. The
tower of its little semi-Gothic church, in which
the Methodist itinerant essays to break the Bread of Life, may be
discerned peeping out above
the hillocks. Along the margin of the road are located half a dozen
ancient dwellings, which contain the immediate society of the "Light;"
and in the neighboring pastures, now vainly struggling to appear green,
a few hungry cows roam about, clipping their scanty subsistence. Hard
by, upon a knoll, stands the drowsy windmill, populous with pigeons,
and down at our feet
are the cottages of the keeper and his men. In the little gardens may
usually be found a few flowers, and, oddly enough, a dwarfed apple-tree
or two, loaded with fruit and propped up with broom-sticks. The seven
lamps of architecture never shed their radiance upon this community,
and hence the primitive style characterizes the dwellings. On many of
the barns and out-buildings may be seen escutcheons and billet-heads of
ships that went to pieces on the neighboring beach. These are the grim
but favorite decorations of the fisherman's homestead. But what is this
we see as we look out on the ocean again? There we behold well-known
dwellings, whose foundations rest, not upon the
shifting sand, but upon the unsteady waves, and ships whose counterpart
may be seen in
Provincetown Harbor, six miles away. It is only a freak of the
magic-lantern, which, at certain
hours of the day, gathers up in its mighty focal grasp the image of
every object on the landward side and in the bay, and sets them down
again upon the surface of the ocean in exactly the opposite direction.
The prospect here is always pleasant, though somber.
It often appears to great advantage in the Autumn. Sometimes of a hazy
afternoon, when the sun grows red in his face in the struggle to burst
surrounding vapor, a rich, mellow light is shed over the commons and
hill-sides, and the whole scene is transfigured. Then the haycocks out
in the fields glow with gold, the miniature pine-forests assume a soft,
emerald hue, the ripe leafage of the whortle berry flames out afresh,
while the blue waters of the bay seem to rise and blend with the sky.
A short distance from the light-house is a break in
the cliff, and the sure-footed may here venture down by a zigzag path.
At the ebb tide there is always a broad
passage in front, where you may walk in safety, and view the face of
the beetling, cavernous cliff, which looks as if it meant to tumble
down upon us one of these days. This is not a rock-bound coast, and
there are no granite bastions springing out from the shore to meet the
waves and batter them in pieces; but the compact clay upon which the
cliff rests serves to retard the work of destruction and prolong the
unequal contest. High up in the shining sand, just under the brow of
the cliff, may be seen the inaccessible habitations of the swallows,
now bustling about the doors of their domiciles, and dodging in and
out, and twittering
all the while with a peculiar emphasis, which indicates that some
remarkable event has transpired in the colony. In the shelving places
carved out by the storms are piles of driftwood, fragments of wrecks,
and deals swept from the deck of a coaster in the last storm. Wood here
is precious; but how shall we get it up the cliff? Hoc opus est! 'T would put trained
Sysiphus on his muscle. Here, too, is a ship's spar thrown out high and
dry. And what was the fate of the ship? What port did she sail from?
What forest gave the tree so straight and fair, even as the cedar of
Lebanon? Perhaps it was
"Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be
This is the most dangerous spot upon the coast of Massachusetts, and
the beach is seldom destitute of some sad
memorial that tells of disaster and shipwreck.
Of some great admiral."
Here, also, is the telegraph station, established
with especial reference to the interests of the commercial marine. The
little building used by the operator as an
office stands upon a commanding situation near the light-house, and is
furnished with the code of marine signals, Lloyd's Gazetteer,
telescopes, and flags. Here the operator sits all day long, both Summer
and Winter, and from his lofty perch surveys the ocean with the aid of
his telescope. The observations made here are frequently the means of
valuable lives, and allaying the anxiety of the merchant. His ship has,
perhaps, long been expected home from the Indies, and months have
already been consumed in waiting. Day after day he sits in his
counting-room, hoping every hour to hear
some tidings of his rich argosy, which is freighted with the bulk of
his fortune. But still time drags on, and no intelligence reaches him,
he becomes alarmed, and falls into a feverish state of mind, like that
pictured by Salarino, when he said:
"My wind, cooling my broth,
But now his anxiety is suddenly ended. The look-out at Highland Light
detects a well-known signal flying from the main of a portly ship in
the offing, and at once flashes the news over the wires; and when the
merchant rises to close the window of his counting-room to keep out the
breeze, so full of uncomfortable suggestions, he, by chance, looks up,
and beholds the private signal of his own "wealthy Andrew" flying over
that building on State-street where his fellow merchants "most do
congregate." At night he goes home to his suburban villa a happy man.
Volumes might be filled with the annals of this barren coast, which,
notwithstanding every possible precaution,
still continues to dock many a noble ship in its treacherous sands. And
then what a helpless thing is the stanchest "Liverpool liner" when once
nipped among the breakers out on the bar! The little fishing-smack may
pound her way through the foaming surge, and land among the
beach-grass; but the unwieldy ship, crammed with the
wealth of the Indies, and held fast in the maw of the quicksands,
struggles like some
monster of the deep till the ribs of oak and iron give way, when comes
the general wreck and the scattering of the fragments, together with
the rich Oriental lading, for miles along
the sandy shore. Today, however, the sea has
forgotten all its former violence, and seems innocent of all evil
intentions, though, as we walk along the strand, the air is tremulous
with the jar of the surf, which combs, and breaks, and rushes, dancing
and gurgling up to our feet.
Would blow me to an ague, when I thought
What harm a wind too great might do at sea.
I should not see the sandy hour-glass run,
But I should think of shallows and of flats,
And see my wealthy Andrew docked in sand,
Vailing her high top lower than her ribs,
To kiss her burial."
But while we have delayed here talking of the sea
and shore, the afternoon has fled, and now the evening shadows are
settling down among the cavities in the cliffs. Let us, therefore, turn
Quarter of a mile toward the north there is an opening in the cliff
where we regain the uplands, and strike the cart-track leading through
As the sun goes down the moon rises from the bed of
the ocean, and prepares to take her nightly journey through the skies,
and when we gain the uplands the cold rays of Luna burst out above the
cliff, and fly across the fields and down the smooth meadows, which
stretch toward Provincetown, chasing away the purple haze, and leaving
instead a vail of damp sea-fog. Across the "commons" come two or three
crazy wains heaped aloft with the saline spoils of the meadows, which
will be spread out to-morrow to dry on the moss-covered fields. On the
road we meet the cows coming from the pasture, crowding and hooking
each other most unamiably, each anxious to be
first in at the watering-trough; and further on may be seen the
neighbors, bustling about their premises, making every thing snug for
the night. And there, in a duck-pond behind the barn, is a little boy,
improving the few remaining minutes of twilight to sail his miniature
ship, and take his first lessons in navigation;
for he already means to be a sailor, like his father and
grandfather—ay, and to be drowned, too, perchance, and with them suffer
hydriotaphia in the
deep blue sea. But look again! the beacon yonder is opening its bright
We began with the light-house; let us end here, and,
with the old whaleman who tends the constant flame, say:
"Sail on! sail on! ye stately
And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse,
Be yours to bring man nearer unto man."
The Ladies' repository: a monthly periodical,
devoted to literature, arts, and religion. / Volume 24, Issue 1, Jan
—Our ascription of this poem to Whittier in our November number was
upon the authority of the Living Age, and there was such strong
internal evidence of its being his that we never stopped to call in
question the statement. The following note from D. Williams, Esq., City
Clerk of Charlestown, claims its paternity for another, whose excellent
prose article on Highland Light in the same number of the Repository
will be remembered by our readers. We give the note of Mr. Williams:
In perusing the November number
of your magazine, I observed a little
poem entitled "Highland Light," which you ascribe to that noble poet,
John G. Whittier, though omitted from his
published works. In ascribing it to Mr. Whittier, however, you were in
error. The author of the poem in question is Rev.
B. F. De Costa, an Episcopal clergyman, formerly a resident of this
city, but now of Boston. It was originally published
in one of the local papers of this city; namely, "The City Advertiser."
I have the pleasure of an intimate acquaintance with the author, and he
submitted the poem to my perusal while it was yet only in manuscript.
No higher compliment could be paid to the poem than was done by you in
ascribing to it so noble a parentage. Mr. De Costa is a lover of Cape
Cod and its associations and characteristics; and I believe his pen has
furnished articles relating thereto which have been widely read,
copied, and admired.
[Apparently the poem referred to is the one below]
The Living Age... /
Volume 77, issue 96, page 146
April 25, 1863 (from MOA at Cornell University)
CLIFFS AT HIGHLAND LIGHT, CAPE COD.
O’er the shifting sand
The jutting cliff uprears its head;
Of the sparkling strand
Bastioned with gray
And stained with dingy red.
A storm-sculptured steep,
From their ports beneath its crest;
Whence the Swallows peep
And where far away
They build their sheltering nest.
From the cold, salt spray
‘Tis the seabird’s haunt,
Swells up forevermore;
Where the deep sea chaunt
And the surf’s hoarse chime
As it breaks along the shore.
Keeps measured time
In a sheltered reach
Lies a shattered, grass-grown beam;
Of the oozy beach
Some brave ship’s mast,
Laid low in the warm Gulf Stream.
That the Typhoon’s blast
Here the driftwood pile
‘Twixt Roque and Sable’s sandy verge,
From many an isle
Heaped on the shore
Nor roll in the tumbling surge.
Shall drift no more,
When the sunlight fades
Of Evening seeks its hollowed side
The dusky shades
And inward creep,
Till Dawn rolls in on the seething tide.
Where they sink to sleep,
Then the gloomy hosts,
Upstart and fly in haste away;
Like belated ghosts,
And the old cliff gleams
Of Phœbus, god of the Day.
With the golden beams