In 1863 Thomas Starr King, perhaps the most noted and broadly honored divine ever known on the Pacific Coast, visited Lake Tahoe, and on his return to San Francisco preached a sermon, entitled: "Living Water from Lake Tahoe." Its descriptions are so felicitous that I am gratified to be able to quote them from Dr. King's volume of Sermons Christianity and Humanity, with the kind permission of the publishers, Houghton, Mifflin Company, Boston, Mass.


    When one is climbing from the west, by the smooth and excellent road, the last slope of the Sierra ridge, he expects, from the summit of the pass, which is more than seven thousand feet above the sea, higher than the famous pass of the Splugen, or the little St. Bernard, to look off and down upon an immense expanse. He expects, or, if he had not learned beforehand, he would anticipate with eagerness, that he should be able to see mountain summits beneath him, and beyond these, valleys and ridges alternating till the hills subside into the eastern plains. How different the facts that await the eye from the western summit, and what a surprise! We find, on gaining what seems to be the ridge, that the Sierra range for more than a hundred miles has a double line of jagged pinnacles, twelve or fifteen miles apart, with a trench or trough between, along a portion of the way, that is nearly fifteen hundred feet deep if we measure from the pass which the stages traverse, which is nearly three thousand feet deep if the plummet is dropped from the highest points of the snowy spires. Down into this trench we look, and opposite upon the eastern wall and crests, as we ride out to the eastern edge of the western summit. In a stretch of forty miles the chasm of it bursts into view at once, half of which is a plain sprinkled with groves of pine, and the other half an expanse of level blue that mocks the azure into which its guardian towers soar. This is Lake Tahoe, an Indian name which signifies "High Water." We descend steadily by the winding mountain-road, more than three miles to the plain, by which we drive to the shore of the Lake; but it is truly Tahoe, "High Water." For we stand more than a mile, I believe more than six thousand feet above the sea, when we have gone down from the pass to its sparkling beach. It has about the same altitude as the Lake of Mount Cenis (6280 feet) in Switzerland, and there is only one sheet of water in Europe that can claim a greater elevation (Lake Po de Vanasque, 7271 feet). There are several, however, that surpass it in the great mountain-chains of the Andes and of Hindustan. The Andes support a lake at 12,000 feet above the sea, and one of the slopes of the Himalaya, in Thibet, encloses and upholds a cup of crystal water 15,600 feet above the level of the Indian Ocean, covering an area, too, of 250 square miles. I had supposed, however, that within the immense limits of the American Republic, or north of us on the continent, there is no sheet of water that competes with Tahoe in altitude and interest. But in Mariposa County of our State there are two lakes, both small, - one 8300 feet, and the other 11,000 feet, - on the Sierra above the line of the sea.

    To a wearied frame and tired mind what refreshment there is in the neighborhood of this lake! The air is singularly searching and strengthening. The noble pines, not obstructed by underbrush, enrich the slightest breeze with aroma and music. Grand peaks rise around, on which the eye can admire the sternness of everlasting crags and the equal permanence of delicate and feathery snow. Then there is the sense of seclusion from the haunts and cares of men, of being upheld on the immense billow of the Sierra, at an elevation near the line of perpetual snow, yet finding the air genial, and the loneliness clothed with the charm of feeling the sense of the mystery of the mountain heights, the part of a chain that link the two polar seas, and of the mystery of the water poured into the granite bowl, whose rim is chased with the splendor of perpetual frost, and whose bounty, flowing into the Truckee stream, finds no outlet into the ocean, but sinks again into the land.

    Everything is charming in the surroundings of the mountain Lake; but as soon as one walks to the beach of it, and surveys its expanse, it is the color, or rather the colors, spread out before the eye, which holds it with greatest fascination. I was able to stay eight days in all, amidst that calm and cheer, yet the hues of the water seemed to become more surprising with each hour. The Lake, according to recent measurement, is about twenty-one miles in length, by twelve or thirteen in breadth. There is no island visible to break its sweep, which seems to be much larger than the figures indicate. And the whole of the vast surface, the boundaries of which are taken in easily at once by the range of the eye, is a mass of pure splendor. When the day is calm, there is a ring of the Lake, extending more than a mile from shore, which is brilliantly green. Within this ring the vast center of the expanse is of a deep, yet soft and singularly tinted blue. Hues cannot be more sharply contrasted than are these permanent colors. They do not shade into each other; they lie as clearly defined as the course of glowing gems in the wall of the New Jerusalem. It is precisely as if we were looking upon an immense floor of lapis lazuli set within a ring of flaming emerald.

    The cause of this contrast is the sudden change in the depth of the water at a certain distance from shore. For a mile or so the basin shelves gradually, and then suddenly plunges off into unknown depths. The center of the Lake must be a tremendous pit. A very short distance from where the water is green and so transparent that the clean stones can be seen on the bottom a hundred feet below, the blue water has been found to be fourteen hundred feet deep; and in other portions soundings cannot be obtained with a greater extent of line.

    What a savage chasm the lake-bed must be! Empty the water from it and it is pure and unrelieved desolation. And the sovereign loveliness of the water that fills it is its color. The very savageness of the rent and fissure is made the condition of the purest charm. The Lake does not feed a permanent river. We cannot trace any issue of it to the ocean. It is not, that we know, a well-spring to supply any large district with water for ordinary use. It seems to exist for beauty. And its peculiar beauty has its root in the peculiar harshness and wildness of the deeps it hides.

    Brethren, this question of color in nature, broadly studied, leads us quickly to contemplate and adore the love of God. If God were the Almighty chiefly, - if he desired to impress us most with his omnipotence and infinitude, and make us bow with dread before him, how easily the world could have been made more somber, how easily our senses could have been created to receive impressions of the bleak vastness of space, how easily the mountains might have been made to breathe terror from their cliffs and walls, how easily the general effect of extended landscapes might have been monotonous and gloomy! If religion is, as it has so often been conceived to be, hostile to the natural good and joy which the heart seeks instinctively, - if sadness, if melancholy, be the soul of its inspiration, and misery for myriads the burden of its prophecy, - I do not believe that the vast deeps of space above us would have been tinted with tender azure, hiding their awfulness; I do not believe that storms would break away into rainbows, and that the clouds of sunset would display the whole gamut of sensuous splendor; I do not believe that the ocean would wear such joy for the eye over its awful abysses; I do not believe that the mountains would crown the complete, the general loveliness of the globe.

The eloquent preacher then continues to draw other lessons from the Lake, but, unfortunately, our space is too limited to allow quotation in full. The following, however, are short excerpts which suggest the richness of the fuller expression:

    The color of the Lake is a word from this natural Gospel. It covers the chasms and wounds of the earth with splendor. It is what the name of the lovely New Hampshire lake, Winnepesaukee indicates, "The Smile of the Great Spirit."

    And this color is connected with purity. The green ring of the Lake is so brilliant, the blue enclosed by it is so deep and tender, because there is no foulness in the water. The edge of the waves along all the beach is clean. The granite sand, too, often dotted with smooth-washed jaspers and garnets and opaline quartz, is especially bright and spotless. In fact, the Lake seems to be conscious, and to have an instinct against contamination. Several streams pour their burden from the mountains into it; but the impurities which they bring down seem to be thrown back from the lip of the larger bowl, and form bars of sediment just before they can reach its sacred hem. Dip from its white-edged ripples, or from its calm heart, or from the foam that breaks over its blue when the wind rouses it to frolic, and you dip what is fit for a baptismal font, - you dip purity itself.

          * * * * *

    The purity of nature is the expression of joy, and it is a revelation to us that the Creator's holiness is not repellent and severe. God tries to win you by his Spirit, which clothes the world with beauty, to trust him, to give up your evil that you may find deeper communion with him, and to recognize the charm of goodness which alone is harmony with the cheer and the purity of the outward world.

    I must speak of another lesson, connected with religion, that was suggested to me on the borders of Lake Tahoe. It is bordered by groves of noble pines. Two of the days that I was permitted to enjoy there were Sundays. On one of them I passed several hours of the afternoon in listening, alone, to the murmur of the pines, while the waves were gently beating the shore with their restlessness. If the beauty and purity of the Lake were in harmony with the deepest religion of the Bible, certainly the voice of the pines was also in chord with it.

          * * * * *

    I read under the pines of Lake Tahoe, on that Sunday afternoon, some pages from a recent English work that raises the question of inspiration. Is the Bible the word of God, or the words of men? It is neither. It is the word of God breathed through the words of men, inextricably intertwined with them as the tone of the wind with the quality of the tree. We must go to the Bible as to a grove of evergreens, not asking for cold, clear truth, but for sacred influence, for revival to the devout sentiment, for the breath of the Holy Ghost, not as it wanders in pure space, but as it sweeps through cedars and pines.

          * * * * *

    In my Sunday musing by the shore of our Lake, I raised the question, - Who were looking upon the waters of Tahoe when Jesus walked by the beach of Gennesareth? Did men look upon it then? And if so were they above the savage level, and could they appreciate its beauty? And before the time of Christ, before the date of Adam, however far back we may be obliged to place our ancestor, for what purpose was this luxuriance of color, this pomp of garniture? How few human eyes have yet rested upon it in calmness, to drink in its loveliness! There are spots near the point of the shore where the hotel stands, to which not more than a few score intelligent visitors have yet been introduced. Such a nook I was taken to by a cultivated friend. We sailed ten miles on the water to the mouth of a mountain stream that pours foaming into its green expanse. We left the boat, followed this stream by its downward leaps through uninvaded nature for more than a mile, and found that it flows from a smaller lake, not more than three miles in circuit, which lies directly at the base of two tremendous peaks of the Sierra, white with immense and perpetual snow-fields. The same ring of vivid green, the same center of soft deep blue, was visible in this smaller mountain bowl, and it is fed by a glorious cataract, supported by those snow-fields, which pours down in thundering foam, at one point, in a leap of a hundred feet to die in that brilliant color, guarded by those cold, dumb crags.

    Never since the creation has a particle of that water turned a wheel, or fed a fountain for human thirst, or served any form of mortal use. Perhaps the eyes of not a hundred intelligent spirits on the earth have yet looked upon that scene. Has there been any waste of its wild and lonely beauty? Has Tahoe been wasted because so few appreciative souls have studied and enjoyed it? If not a human glance had yet fallen upon it, would its charms of color and surroundings be wasted charms?

          * * * * *

    Where we discern beauty and yet seclusion, loveliness and yet no human use, we can follow up the created charm to yet the mind of the Creator, and think of it as realizing a conception or a dream by him. He delights in his works. To the bounds of space their glory is present as one vision to his eye. And it is our sovereign privilege that we are called to the possibility of sympathy with his joy. The universe is the home of God. He has lined its walls with beauty. He has invited us into his palace. He offers to us the glory of sympathy with his mind. By love of nature, by joy in the communion with its beauty, by growing insight into the wonders of color, form, and purpose, we enter into fellowship with the Creative art. We go into harmony with God. By dullness of eye and deadness of heart to natural beauty, we keep away from sympathy with God, who is the fountain of loveliness as well as the fountain of love. But the inmost harmony with the Infinite we find only through love, and the reception of his love. Then we are prepared to see the world aright, to find the deepest joy in its pure beauty, and to wait for the hour of translation to the glories of the interior and deeper world.