In her diary entry for July 17, 1833, Fanny Kemble wrote about her increasing excitement as they slowly approached the vicinity of the Falls. A perfect frenzy of impatience seized upon me, she wrote. I could have set off and run the whole way. When the carriage stopped at their hotel, she raced for a view. I stood upon Table Rock. Trelawny seized me by the arm, and without speaking a word, dragged me to the edge of the rapids, to the brink of the abyss. I saw Niagara—Oh God! Who can describe that sight!!!
Appropriately, she did not even try. Her journal—at least in its published version (1990)—ends there.
I can’t leave these passages about Niagara Falls without mentioning the story of a previous literary passion of mine. Jack London. In late June 1894, Johnny London (he did not alter this to “Jack” until he began writing and publishing stories) was near Buffalo, New York. He’d been off on quite an adventure—hopping trains (illegally) all across the country from his home in Oakland. He was eighteen years old. A school dropout.
He’d come to the area because he wanted to see Niagara Falls. On June 28, he viewed the Falls in late afternoon and evening, then decided to sleep in a nearby field so that he could get a better look at them in the morning.
In his 1907 account of his tramping around (The Road), London wrote his first impression of the Falls: Once my eyes were filled with that wonder-vision of down-rushing water, I was lost. I could not tear myself away …. There was a good moon that night, and he says that he stayed until after eleven.
The following morning, he rose, early, and walked into town. Where he was promptly nabbed by John Law. Arrested for vagrancy. Off he went to court for a quick conviction. Then … thirty days in the Erie County Penitentiary (he could not pay the fine), a grim place with cells stacked atop one another like animal cages, a grim place full of grim experiences he writes about at length in the book. He would not see the Falls again. Released, he headed home (indirectly!), where he returned to school and began to prepare himself to be a writer.
|photo included in London's THE ROAD (1907)|