Text: Edgar Allan Poe [?], “Harper’s Ferry” [Text-02], Graham’s Magazine, Vol XX, No. 2, February 1842, p. 73.


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THE scenery at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, is perhaps the most picturesque in America. The view given in the accompanying engraving is taken from the Blue Ridge, from whence the tourist enjoys the finest prospect of this delightful spot. Lofty as the summit is, and difficult as the ascent proves to the uninitiated, the magnificence of the view from the top of the ridge amply compensates the adventurer for his trouble. Immediately beneath your feet are seen the Potomac and Shenandoah enveloping the beautiful village of Harper’s Ferry in their folds, and then joining, their waters flow on in silent beauty, until lost behind the gorges of the mountains. Far away in the distance stretch a succession of woody plains, diversified with farm-houses and villages, and gradually growing more and more indistinct, until they fade away into the summits of the Alleghanies. But we cannot do better than give President Jefferson’s unrivalled description of this scene. “The passage,” he says, “of the Potomac, through the Blue Ridge, is, perhaps, one of the most stupendous scenes in nature. You stand on a very high point of land; on your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountains a hundred miles to seek a vent, on your left approaches the Potomac, in quest of a passage also: in the moment of their junction, they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. The first glance of this scene hurries our senses into the opinion that the mountains were formed first, that the rivers began to flow afterwards, that, in this place particularly they have been dammed up by the Blue Ridge of mountains, and have formed an ocean which filled the whole valley, — that continuing to rise, they have at length broken over at this spot, and have torn the mountain down from its summit to its base. The piles of rock on each had, but particularly on the Shenandoah — the evident marks of their disrupture and avulsion from their beds by the most powerful agents of nature, corroborate the impression. But the distant finishing which nature has given to the picture, is of a very different character; [column 2:] it is a true contrast to the foreground; it is as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous, — for the mountain being clover asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small closet of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in the plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around, to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself, and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Potomac just above its junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, its terrible precipices hanging over you, and, within about twenty miles, reach Fredericktown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Enthusiastic as Jefferson is in this description, he does not exceed the truth. Foreigners have borne ample testimony to the splendor of the prospect from the top of the ridge at Harper’s Ferry, admitting that there are few scenes in Europe which surpass it.

It is time to do justice to American scenery. Hundreds of our citizens annually cross the Atlantic for the purpose of visiting the scenery of Europe, under the mistaken supposition that their own country affords nothing to compensate them for the trouble of a visit. This ignorance is less general than formerly, but it still prevails to a considerable extent. Yet no country affords finer or more magnificent scenery than American. Go up the Hudson, travel along the banks of the Susquehanna, cross the Alleghanies or ascend the Catskill, loiter over the fairy-like waters of lake Horicon, and you will cease to believe that America affords no scenery to reward the traveller. We say nothing of Niagara or Trenton falls, or of the mountain scenery scattered all over the south. We say nothing of the vast prairies of the west, of the boundless melancholy expanse of the Mississippi, of the magnificent scenery on the route to St. Anthony’s Falls. Let our people visit these before going abroad. Let them learn to do justice to the country of their birth.


This article is accompanied by a plate engraving.

This article was first attribute to Poe by Burton Pollin in American Literature, 40 (May 1968), pp. 164-178. In “A Second Look at ‘Harper’s Ferry’,” (Edgar Allan Poe Review, Spring 2006, 7:71-74), however, Jeffrey A. Savoye identifies the essay as an adaptation of a section of American Scenery; or, Land Lake, and River Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature, New York: R. Martin & Co., 1840, written by N. P. Willis. “Harper’s Ferry,’ then, is at best a collaborative piece, with Poe editorially reworking Willis’ words.)


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