"Passages From a Journal at Rockaway"


"Passages From a Journal at Rockaway"


The beauty and pleasure of nature.


A sketch that contrasts June in New York City with Rockaway Beach.


Sedgwick, Catharine M.
Miss Sedgwick


Southern Literary Messenger,  [edited by T. H. White], (September 1838): 573-575.




J. Robinson, D. Gussman


Reprinted in: New-Yorker (8 September 1838): 386-387






To Mr. T. W. WHITE,
Editor of Southern Literary Messenger.

My Dear Sir.-—Being at present much occupied with domestic duties, and never in the habit of writing for more dignified periodicals than souvenirs, and having nothing better to send you than the following passages, I should have foreborne, but that I wished to express to you my desire to comply with your request, and my very grateful sense of your repeated attentions in sending your valuable Journal to me, and that during this hot season I imagine quantity may sometimes be desirable to you (as filling up) Independent of quality.

Believe me, my dear sir,
Very respectfully and gratefully, yours,
Stockbridge, Mass. July 20, 1838.

If there is any time at which the love of nature is felt to be an universal passion—a love to which all other loves should be sacrificed—it is at the coming on of Spring, when Nature is to our senses a manifestation of the Creator—a realization of that belief of ancient philosophy, that in nature the Almighty Spirit lived and moved and had it's being. Even the poor pent-up denizen of the city, cabined, cribbed, confined as he is, at this season, when nature visibly begins her beautiful processes—makes some demonstrations that the love of her is not dead within him : the trees he has planted, (God's witnesses amidst brick walls) the birds (albeit stolen from their natural habitations in the green wood) in their cages, and the carefully tended plants at the open windows are signs of this love.

Those who have passed their childhood where Nature's choicest temples are fixed—who may be said, in some humble sort, to have served at her altars, are most impatient at the actual discomforts as well as privations of a summer city life. I do not know that I ever experienced a more delightful sensation than that produced a few days since by a change from New York to Rockaway—from frying in the city, to the life-giving breezes of this magnificent sea-shore. Perhaps neither heat nor cold should be positive evils to those in tolerable health; but who is stoical enough to be independent of them? No topic, not morals, politics, nor even religion, is, from the beginning to the end of life, so often and so thoroughly discussed as the weather. It is the breath of life to old and young, to rich and poor, and when it comes so fiercely hot as during the last week, we suffer—and suffering there are few that do not complain. Besides, is it not a positive evil during the month of June, when the summer is in the freshness and beauty of her youth, the only month that in our northern region shadows forth a poet's spring, is it not an evil to be imprisoned in a city, to have your senses deprived of the nutriment prepared by Heaven to restore them to their natural ministry to the mind; for, do not the odors and the music of June (to say nothing of the strawberries!) awaken the dullest imagination?

A week in the city, in June, is then always a loss, but a week like the last, when the mercury, in our coolest apartments, stood at 80°, and in the warmest at a point that would not have seemed enviable to the wretches in the hottest circle of Dante's Inferno: after such a week's experience in town, the change to Rockaway makes one feel, as Dives might have felt if the gulph had not been impassable that divided him from Lazarus. For the last seven days not a drop of rain had fallen, the air was thick and heavy with impalpable dust, the very leaves on the trees seemed to feel it too hot to move—and the poor little caged birds that had been singing themselves and us into forgetfulness of our exile from Nature, were withdrawn from their airings, and were silently languishing in darkened apartments. We had cast off every garment that could be dispensed with; our flannels were forgotten friends. I was suddenly summoned here to join a very dear invalid friend, and I set off to do the most agreeable thing in the world with the delightful self-complacency resulting from the performance of a duty. The golden cup given to the miser in Parnell's apologue is an illustration of the profuseness, with which Providence throws golden pleasures into the scale of our duties. My companion was a charming school-girl, who enjoyed with a school-girl's relish the unexpected transition from her tasks to our excursion. As we hurried down Broadway to lake the four o'clock rail-car at Brooklyn, the heat was intense. In the ferry-boat we felt the life-restoring sea-breeze that came sweeping up the bay; and when the cars began their flight, we were cooled down to the temperate point. At Jamaica, where we were transferred to Mott's waggon and entered on the pretty country road that leads to the beach, the wind was so cool that we wrapped our blanket shawls close around us, and here we have found them sitting with the windows down, and we feel as if we had jumped from a hot bath into a snow-bank.

And here before my window is the "great and wide sea." What an image of eternity it is at this moment shrouded in mist! You hear it's mighty voice—you know it's reality, and that "therein are things innumerable ;" but beyond the line where human feet tread, you see nothing—There where the breakers fall, as upon the borders of human life, is all the din and uproar. Beyond, through that immeasurable distance, all seems repose; and seems so only because it is like eternity, hidden from our vision.

Monday, P. M.—I went alone to walk on the beach. There had been a storm, and the clouds that were wildly scudding over the heavens here and there, broke away, and the sunbeams poured from the bright world abate them and kindled in the east a rainbow that dropped its column of colored light into the ocean. I would commend any one afflicted with self-exaggeration to a solitary walk on a sea-beach. All selfism is lost in an overpowering sentiment of reverence. I had an almost painful feeling of illimitable power, but as I turned from the surf which was breaking magnificently, a sweet breath from the landward clover-fields met me, and filled my eyes with tears and my heart with sensations like those that answer the voices of kindred, or are called forth by the little beam that greets us from the candle in our own home, when we return from a stranger's dwelling.

Monday evening brought me three letters. Where do letters not come except, as Johnson lamented, not to the grave? Chance could hardly throw together the productions of three more remarkable women than my correspondents—the least of them in the world's eye is the greatest, perhaps in the kingdom of heaven. has many high faculties, some almost preternatural powers that does not approach; clearer moral perceptions and loftier aspirations no one has. They are not unlike in that quality that, like a pure atmosphere gives vigor and effect to all others—naturalness. Neither has the varied and enriching experience, the glowing imagination and the almost unlimited acquisitions of Mrs.__ but she has a healthier and therefore a happier spirit. She has the spontaneous richness and goodness that are God's gifts, and as superior to any acquired talents or results of virtuous efforts as sunlight to lamplight, or the gracious showers from the clouds to the pourings from a watering-pot. Her mind seems, without an effort (for you see no fluttering of the wings) to rise to the highest altitude: and, kind and patient, without any apparent stooping, to come down to the least duty. While poor ___ is beating her golden feathers off against every limit as if limits were prison walls, ___ is singing on every bough, feathering every nest as well as her own, and feeding every chance bird.

Tuesday.—The gay season for watering-places has not yet come, and beside the untiring and ever-exciting view of the sea, there is little to vary life here; there are drives oh the beach, and when the tide is up, round the pretty rural lanes of the interior, past the farmhouses, where you see plenty of pig-nurseries and hencoops, where generations are preparing for the all devouring jaws of the New York market. Then we have those three great daily events of all watering-places, breakfast, dinner and tea, diversified by the liberality of Messrs. Blake & Mead, and the ingenuity of French cooks. And we have arrivals and departures. At this moment there is standing before the piazza a carriage built upon the model of an English mail-coach with four grey horses, their master sealed on the box with a friend; the coachman and footman in frock coats, shorts, and white top boots in the dickey, and the lady, her nurses and children, inside. The coach and harness are blazoned with stags' heads and other heraldic devices. Some impertinent whispers asking from which side of the house these anti-republican emblems are derived, are suppressed from respect to the unpretending lady, who, with her pretty children, the picture of an American matron, is courteously and bowing her adieux. The sarcasm is changed to a regret at the bad taste of appropriating unmeaning emblems.

Wednesday morning.—Would that some one who had Charles Lamb's art of putting les petits morales in picturesque lights, would write an essay upon the moralities of a watering-place! Essays have been written demonstrating that the most common extravagance consisted in the thoughtless expenditure of hours and shillings. Is there not a similar waste from carelessness of those lesser moralities, which make up the sum of most people's virtues? There are few (certainly few women,) born to "point a moral or adorn a tale"—few Charlotte Cordays or Elisabeth Frys; but all, by economising small but abundant opportunities of producing, not great good, but agreeable sensations, may add materially to the sum of human happiness. At a watering-place, for example, if a gentleman, instead of casting a doubtful or sarcastic glance at a newly arrived stranger, bestow some trifling courtesy—if it be but a bow or a word of kind greeting, enough to express "we are fellow-beings"—especially if the new comer happen to be not fashionable, not comme il faut, and the saluter be so—it will be seen that a sunbeam has fallen across the stranger's path: and who can estimate the value of a sunbeam, a moral sunbeam?

All the world are purveyors of pleasure for the fashionable and beautiful; but there are at all watering-places, unknown, unattractive and solitary beings, who are cheered by a slight courtesy expressing the courtesy of the heart. An invalid may be relieved of weary moments by a patient listener to his complaints: this is perhaps weakness, but never mind; let the weak profit by the strength of the strong, and an easy obedience will be rendered to the great precept, "Bear ye one another's burdens." An old man may be gratified (at small expense,) by the offer of precedence at table, or a privileged seat on a sofa.

I have known ladies, long disused to such courtesies, brightened for half an hour by a courteous picking up of a dropped pocket-handkerchief. There are small sins of commission, as well as of omission, thoughtlessly enacted. For instance, a wretched dyspeptic complained to me this morning that he lost his two hours' sleep (all the fiend allows him,) by reason of one of his neighbors taking a fancy to walk the gallery half the night in creaking boots. And at this moment half a dozen lawless children are shouting and screaming in the gallery adjoining the room of an invalid who is vainly trying to sleep. Are not these violations of the laws of humanity? and should creaking boots be worn by any but the confessed enemies of their race? and is it not enough to make a misanthrope of a Burchell, to have the music of children's footsteps converted into such an annoyance?

Ah when shall we see the principle of brotherhood, that informs the great operations of philanthropists, brought to bear upon the common charities of life— upon the social relations in these summer resorts, where people "most do congregate?"—How it would annihilate distances between man and man, bring down the loftiness of the lofty, and exalt the depressed!—How it would kindle up the evening horizon of the aged, and disperse the mists from the dawn of the young!



Sedgwick, Catharine M. Miss Sedgwick , “"Passages From a Journal at Rockaway",” Sedgwick Stories: The Periodical Writings of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, accessed December 1, 2022, https://sedgwickstories.omeka.net/items/show/11.

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