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A Holy Land
by [?]

Not long ago an article came under my notice descriptive of the neighborhood around Grant’s tomb and the calm that midsummer brings to that vicinity, laughingly referred to as the “Holy Land.”

As careless fingers wandering over the strings of a violin may unintentionally strike a chord, so the writer of those lines, all unconsciously, with a jest, set vibrating a world of tender memories and associations; for the region spoken of is truly a holy land to me, the playground of my youth, and connected with the sweetest ties that can bind one’s thoughts to the past.

Ernest Renan in his Souvenirs d’Enfance, tells of a Brittany legend, firmly believed in that wild land, of the vanished city of “Is,” which ages ago disappeared beneath the waves. The peasants still point out at a certain place on the coast the site of the fabled city, and the fishermen tell how during great storms they have caught glimpses of its belfries and ramparts far down between the waves; and assert that on calm summer nights they can hear the bells chiming up from those depths. I also have a vanished “Is” in my heart, and as I grow older, I love to listen to the murmurs that float up from the past. They seem to come from an infinite distance, almost like echoes from another life.

At that enchanted time we lived during the summers in an old wooden house my father had re-arranged into a fairly comfortable dwelling. A tradition, which no one had ever taken the trouble to verify, averred that Washington had once lived there, which made that hero very real to us. The picturesque old house stood high on a slope where the land rises boldly; with an admirable view of distant mountain, river and opposing Palisades.

The new Riverside drive (which, by the bye, should make us very lenient toward the men who robbed our city a score of years ago, for they left us that vast work in atonement), has so changed the neighborhood it is impossible now for pious feet to make a pilgrimage to those childish shrines. One house, however, still stands as when it was our nearest neighbor. It had sheltered General Gage, land for many acres around had belonged to him. He was an enthusiastic gardener, and imported, among a hundred other fruits and plants, the “Queen Claude” plum from France, which was successfully acclimated on his farm. In New York a plum of that kind is still called a “green gage.” The house has changed hands many times since we used to play around the Grecian pillars of its portico. A recent owner, dissatisfied doubtless with its classic simplicity, has painted it a cheerful mustard color and crowned it with a fine new Mansard roof. Thus disfigured, and shorn of its surrounding trees, the poor old house stands blankly by the roadside, reminding one of the Greek statue in Anstey’s “Painted Venus” after the London barber had decorated her to his taste. When driving by there now, I close my eyes.

Another house, where we used to be taken to play, was that of Audubon, in the park of that name. Many a rainy afternoon I have passed with his children choosing our favorite birds in the glass cases that filled every nook and corner of the tumble-down old place, or turning over the leaves of the enormous volumes he would so graciously take down from their places for our amusement. I often wonder what has become of those vast in-folios, and if any one ever opens them now and admires as we did the glowing colored plates in which the old ornithologist took such pride. There is something infinitely sad in the idea of a collection of books slowly gathered together at the price of privations and sacrifices, cherished, fondled, lovingly read, and then at the owner’s death, coldly sent away to stand for ever unopened on the shelves of some public library. It is like neglecting poor dumb children!