Oak Openings

by James Fenimore Cooper

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It ought to be matter of surprise how men live in the midst of marvels, without taking heed of their existence. The slightest derangement of their accustomed walks in political or social life shall excite all their wonder, and furnish themes for their discussions, for months; while the prodigies that come from above are presented daily to their eyes, and are received without surprise, as things of course. In a certain sense, this may be well enough, inasmuch as all which comes directly from the hands of the Creator may be said so far to exceed the power of human comprehension, as to be beyond comment; but the truth would show us that the cause of this neglect is rather a propensity to dwell on such interests as those over which we have a fancied control, than on those which confessedly transcend our understanding. Thus is it ever with men. The wonders of creation meet them at every turn, without awakening reflection, while their minds labor on subjects that are not only ephemeral and illusory, but which never attain an elevation higher than that the most sordid interests can bestow.

For ourselves, we firmly believe that the finger of Providence is pointing the way to all races, and colors, and nations, along the path that is to lead the east and the west alike to the great goal of human wants. Demons infest that path, and numerous and unhappy are the wanderings of millions who stray from its course; sometimes in reluctance to proceed; sometimes in an indiscreet haste to move faster than their fellows, and always in a forgetfulness of the great rules of conduct that have been handed down from above. Nevertheless, the main course is onward; and the day, in the sense of time, is not distant, when the whole earth is to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, "as the waters cover the sea."

One of the great stumbling-blocks with a large class of well- meaning, but narrow-judging moralists, are the seeming wrongs that are permitted by Providence, in its control of human events. Such persons take a one-sided view of things, and reduce all principles to the level of their own understandings. If we could comprehend the relations which the Deity bears to us, as well as we can comprehend the relations we bear to him, there might be a little seeming reason in these doubts; but when one of the parties in this mighty scheme of action is a profound mystery to the other, it is worse than idle, it is profane, to attempt to explain those things which our minds are not yet sufficiently cleared from the dross of earth to understand. Look at Italy, at this very moment. The darkness and depression from which that glorious peninsula is about to emerge are the fruits of long-continued dissensions and an iron despotism, which is at length broken by the impulses left behind him by a ruthless conqueror, who, under the appearance and the phrases of Liberty, contended only for himself. A more concentrated egotism than that of Napoleon probably never existed; yet has it left behind it seeds of personal rights that have sprung up by the wayside, and which are likely to take root with a force that will bid defiance to eradication. Thus is it ever, with the progress of society. Good appears to arise out of evil, and the inscrutable ways of Providence are vindicated by general results, rather than by instances of particular care. We leave the application of these remarks to the intelligence of such of our readers as may have patience to peruse the work that will be found in the succeeding pages.

We have a few words of explanation to say, in connection with the machinery of our tale. In the first place, we would remark, that the spelling of "burr-oak," as given in this book, is less our own than an office spelling. We think it should be "bur-oak," and this for the simple reason, that the name is derived from the fact that the acorn borne by this tree is partially covered with a bur. Old Sam Johnson, however, says that "burr" means the lobe, or lap of the ear; and those who can fancy such a resemblance between this and the covering of our acorn, are at liberty to use the two final consonants. Having commenced stereotyping with this supernumerary, for the sake of uniformity that mode of spelling, wrong as we think it, has been continued through-out the book.

There is nothing imaginary in the fertility of the West. Personal observation has satisfied us that it much surpasses anything that exists in the Atlantic States, unless in exceptions, through the agency of great care and high manuring, or in instances of peculiar natural soil. In these times, men almost fly. We have passed over a thousand miles of territory within the last few days, and have brought the pictures at the two extremes of this journey in close proximity in our mind's eye. Time may lessen that wonderful fertility, and bring the whole country more on a level; but there it now is, a glorious gift from God, which it is devoutly to be wished may be accepted with due gratitude and with a constant recollection of his unwavering rules of right and wrong, by those who have been selected to enjoy it.

June, 1848.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.