This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The annual return of the 28th of July will moisten the eyes and agonize the hearts of many American citizens.
On the morning of that disastrous day two steamers, the Armenia and the Henry Clay, with numerous passengers on board, start from the capital for the chief commercial port of the Empire State. Like " stately sailing swans," they glide swiftly over the smooth surface of the Hudson. The fire within them waxes warm; their awful energies are roused; they run abreast - anon, the " bird of the West" darts ahead and distances her orient rival. She calls at her landings, swells the number of her passengers, and with fearful velocity bears them onward.
They admire the varied landscapes, the cottages, villas, towns, cities, bold cliffs, and lofty mountains, which have given the scenery about this majestic river a world-wide renown.
They near a city, which rises in beauty and grace from its western bank back to the brow of the distant hill. There is a " Cottage, half embowered With modest jessamine, and there a spot Of garden ground, where, ranged in neat array, Grow countless sweets".
Its architecture is in the most approved Elizabethean style. Its grounds are tastefully laid out and adorned, and he who named it " Highland Gardens," accurately translated the natural language of the place. It overlooks the city and the river, and commands a view of one of the most extensive and beautiful landscapes in the world. The very site seems designed by nature for the birth place of genius, and for the abode of comfort, taste and learning.
Its proprietor, with his relatives and friends, six in all, take passage in the ill-fated boat. She bears them on toward their port of destination, when suddenly the alarm of fire rings like a death-knell through that floating sepulchre. The passengers are ordered aft, and she is headed for the eastern shore. In a moment all is consternation and horror, which no language can describe, no painter's pencil sketch. Her whole centre is on Are. She strikes the bank two miles below the town of Yonkers. The wind envelopes the multitude on her stern, in smoke and flame. With a fearful odds in the chances of escape, the Great Destroyer offers them their choice between a death by flame, or a death by flood. Alas! on some he inflicts both; they are first burned and then drowned!
* Pronounced before the Pomological Congress at Philadelphia, September 13,1852.
They are driven before the devouring element, and entrust themselves to the mercy of the waves. Admidst the crowd at the stern, stands a man of tall and slender habit, and of thoughtful expression, whose penetrating eye surveys this perilous scene, and seeks the most favorable chance of escape. His accustomed self-possession fails him not in this awful extremity. He imparts wise counsels for personal preservation to his friends and those about him; then climbs to the upper deck for articles from the furniture of the boat, on which they may float to the shore. He returns, but his beloved wife and part of his company have already been driven overboard. He commits the rest, and last of all himself, also to the fatal flood, "Forlorn of heart, and by severe decree Compelled reluctant to the faithless sea".
They sink; they rise. With the grasp of death they cling to him and again submerge him and themselves in the waves. He brings them once more to the surface and beats for the shore. Alas! it is in vain; his efforts to save others peril his own life. Entangled, exhausted, and disabled, he sinks to a watery grave.
But the partner of his life, her sister and brother, who were mercifully rescued from the jaws of death, are still unapprised of his melancholy fate, and search for him in vain among the agonized survivors. But the cry, she sinks! she sinks!! fills their hearts with direful apprehensions. Still they cling to the delusive hope that he may be among those rescued by the rival Armenia and borne to the city of New-York.
The object of his conjugal love returns to her desolate home. The tidings of this awful disaster fly upon the wings of the wind; the mystic wires tremble at the shock; the press utters its loud lament; the note of woe rings through our streets, fills our dwellings and convulses our hearts with grief. The nation mourns, minute guns are fired upon the spot to arouse the inhabitants of the surrounding country, and to start the dead from their lowly rest. Multitudes rush from every quarter to the mournful scene; they crowd around each body as it is raised and brought to the shore, to identify therein a relation or friend. Among them his brother and partner in business arrive. At length another body is raised. Its countenance is familiar; it is recognised; and at last the melancholy announcement is made that Andrew Jackson Downing is no more.
"Lovely in death the beauteous ruin lay".
His precious remains are borne back to their native city and to his house of mourning. There they meet his widowed wife, whose ear, during the fourteen years of their Wedded life, had been so quick to catch the sound of his returning footsteps, and who had been the first to greet and welcome him. Alas! she is suddenly bereft by one fatal blow, of friend, mother, husband! The funeral rites are performed; his body is committed to the tomb, " earth to earth," " ashes to ashes," " dust to dust!"
Thus terminated the earthly career of our lamented brother and associate. But his name shall be perpetuated by fragrant flowers and delicious fruits; by gushing fountains and murmuring streams; by grateful shade and balmy breeze, and by many a rural scene, and many a tasteful home. He shall be remembered " Where collages and fanes, and villas rise; Where cultur'd fields and gardens smile around".
But to be more specific, the results of his toil appear in the forests which he has preserved from the merciless axe - in the trees which he has described and made to contribute more abundantly to the taste and comfort of their proprietors - in the avenues which he has adorned - in the lawns and pleasure grounds which he has laid out and appropriately embellished - and in numberless buildings which stand as monuments to his architectural skill.