July 13th.–A show of wax-figures, consisting almost wholly of murderers and their victims,–Gibbs and Hansley, the pirates, and the Dutch girl whom Gibbs murdered. Gibbs and Hansley were admirably done, as natural as life; and many people who had known Gibbs would not, according to the showman, be convinced that this wax-figure was not his skin stuffed. The two pirates were represented with halters round their necks, just ready to be turned off; and the sheriff stood behind them, with his watch, waiting for the moment. The clothes, halter, and Gibbs’s hair were authentic. E. K. Avery and Cornell,–the former a figure in black, leaning on the back of a chair, in the attitude of a clergyman about to pray; an ugly devil, said to be a good likeness. Ellen Jewett and R. P. Robinson, she dressed richly, in extreme fashion, and very pretty; he awkward and stiff, it being difficult to stuff a figure to look like a gentleman. The showman seemed very proud of Ellen Jewett, and spoke of her somewhat as if this wax-figure were a real creation. Strong and Mrs. Whipple, who together murdered the husband of the latter. Lastly the Siamese twins. The showman is careful to call his exhibition the “Statuary.” He walks to and fro before the figures, talking of the history of the persons, the moral lessons to be drawn therefrom, and especially of the excellence of the wax-work. He has for sale printed histories of the personages. He is a friendly, easy-mannered sort of a half-genteel character, whose talk has been moulded by the persons who most frequent such a show; an air of superiority of information, a moral instructor, with a great deal of real knowledge of the world. He invites his departing guests to call again and bring their friends, desiring to know whether they are pleased; telling that he had a thousand people on the 4th of July, and that they were all perfectly satisfied. He talks with the female visitors, remarking on Ellen Jewett’s person and dress to them, he having “spared no expense in dressing her; and all the ladies say that a dress never set better, and he thinks he never knew a handsomer female.” He goes to and fro, snuffing the candles, and now and then holding one to the face of a favorite figure. Ever and anon, hearing steps upon the staircase, he goes to admit a new visitor. The visitors,–a half-bumpkin, half country-squire-like man, who has something of a knowing air, and yet looks and listens with a good deal of simplicity and faith, smiling between whiles; a mechanic of the town; several decent-looking girls and women, who eye Ellen herself with more interest than the other figures,–women having much curiosity about such ladies; a gentlemanly sort of person, who looks somewhat ashamed of himself for being there, and glances at me knowingly, as if to intimate that he was conscious of being out of place; a boy or two, and myself, who examine wax faces and faces of flesh with equal interest. A political or other satire might be made by describing a show of wax-figures of the prominent public men; and by the remarks of the showman and the spectators, their characters and public standing might be expressed. And the incident of Judge Tyler as related by E—- might be introduced.
A series of strange, mysterious, dreadful events to occur, wholly destructive of a person’s happiness. He to impute them to various persons and causes, but ultimately finds that he is himself the sole agent. Moral, that our welfare depends on ourselves.
The strange incident in the court of Charles IX. of France: he and five other maskers being attired in coats of linen covered with pitch and bestuck with flax to represent hairy savages. They entered the hall dancing, the five being fastened together, and the king in front. By accident the five were set on fire with a torch. Two were burned to death on the spot, two afterwards died; one fled to the buttery, and jumped into a vessel of water. It might be represented as the fate of a squad of dissolute men.
A perception, for a moment, of one’s eventual and moral self, as if it were another person,–the observant faculty being separated, and looking intently at the qualities of the character. There is a surprise when this happens,–this getting out of one’s self,–and then the observer sees how queer a fellow he is.
June 30th.–If it is not known how and when a man dies, it makes a ghost of him for many years thereafter, perhaps for centuries. King Arthur is an example; also the Emperor Frederick, and other famous men, who were thought to be alive ages after their disappearance. So with private individuals. I had an uncle John, who went a voyage to sea about the beginning of the War of 1812, and has never returned to this hour. But as long as his mother lived, as many as twenty years, she never gave up the hope of his return, and was constantly hearing stories of persons whose description answered to his. Some people actually affirmed that they had seen him in various parts of the world. Thus, so far as her belief was concerned, he still walked the earth. And even to this day I never see his name, which is no very uncommon one, without thinking that this may be the lost uncle.
Thus, too, the French Dauphin still exists, or a kind of ghost of him; the three Tells, too, in the cavern of Uri.
—Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry of June 30th, 1854; collected in Passages from the English Note-Books.
June 9th.–Cleaning the attic to-day, here at the Wayside, the woman found an immense snake, flat and outrageously fierce, thrusting out its tongue. Ellen, the cook, killed it. She called it an adder, but it appears to have been a striped snake. It seems a fiend, haunting the house. On further inquiry, the snake is described as plaided with brown and black.
Concord, June 6th.–. . . Mr. F—- arrived yesterday, and appeared to be in most excellent health, and as happy as the sunshine. About the first thing he did was to wash the dishes; and he is really indefatigable in the kitchen, so that I am quite a gentleman of leisure. Previous to his arrival, I had kindled no fire for four entire days, and had lived all that time on the corned beef, except one day, when Ellery and I went down the river on a fishing excursion. Yesterday, we boiled some lamb, which we shall have cold for dinner to-day. This morning, Mr. F—- fried a sumptuous dish of eels for breakfast. Mrs. P. —- continues to be the instrument of Providence, and yesterday sent us a very nice plum-pudding.
I have told Mr. F—- that I shall be engaged in the forenoons, and he is to manage his own occupations and amusements during that time, . . .
Leo, I regret to say, has fallen under suspicion of a very great crime,–nothing less than murder,–a fowl crime it may well be called, for it is the slaughter of one of Mr. Hayward’s hens. He has been seen to chase the hens, several times, and the other day one of them was found dead. Possibly he may be innocent, and, as there is nothing but circumstantial evidence, it must be left with his own conscience.
Meantime, Mr. Hayward, or somebody else, seems to have given him such a whipping that he is absolutely stiff, and walks about like a rheumatic old gentleman. I am afraid, too, that he is an incorrigible thief. Ellery says he has seen him coming up the avenue with a calf’s whole head in his mouth. How he came by it is best known to Leo himself. If he were a dog of fair character, it would be no more than charity to conclude that he had either bought it, or had it given to him; but with the other charges against him, it inclines me to great distrust of his moral principles. Be that as it may, he managed his stock of provisions very thriftily, burying it in the earth, and eating a portion of it whenever he felt an appetite. If he insists upon living by highway robbery, it would be well to make him share his booty with us. . . .
19 May. He feels more deserted with a second person than when alone. If he is together with someone, this second person reaches out for him and he is helplessly delivered into his hand. If he is alone, all mankind reaches out for him – but the innumerable outstretched arms become entangled with one another and no one reaches to him.
Franz Kafka’s diary entry of 19 May 1922. From The Diaries of Franz Kafka.” Schocken Books. Translation by Martin Greenberg.
May 11, 1838.–At Boston last week. Items:–A young man, with a small mustache, dyed brown, reddish from its original light color. He walks with an affected gait, his arms crooked outwards, treading much on his toes. His conversation is about the theatre, where he has a season ticket,–about an amateur who lately appeared there, and about actresses, with other theatrical scandal.–In the smoking-room, two checker and backgammon boards; the landlord a great player, seemingly a stupid man, but with considerable shrewdness and knowledge of the world.– F—-, the comedian, a stout, heavy-looking Englishman, of grave deportment, with no signs of wit or humor, yet aiming at both in conversation, in order to support his character. Very steady and regular in his life, and parsimonious in his disposition,–worth $50,000, made by his profession.–A clergyman, elderly, with a white neck-cloth, very unbecoming, an unworldly manner, unacquaintance with the customs of the house, and learning them in a childlike way. A ruffle to his shirt, crimped.–A gentleman, young, handsome, and sea-flushed, belonging to Oswego, New York, but just arrived in port from the Mediterranean: he inquires of me about the troubles in Canada, which were first beginning to make a noise when he left the country,–whether they are all over. I tell him all is finished, except the hanging of the prisoners. Then we talk over the matter, and I tell him the fates of the principal men,–some banished to New South Wales, one hanged, others in prison, others, conspicuous at first, now almost forgotten.–Apartments of private families in the hotel,–what sort of domesticity there may be in them; eating in public, with no board of their own. The gas that lights the rest of the house lights them also, in the chandelier from the ceiling.–A shabby-looking man, quiet, with spectacles, at first wearing an old, coarse brown frock, then appearing in a suit of elderly black, saying nothing unless spoken to, but talking intelligently when addressed. He is an editor, and I suppose printer, of a country paper. Among the guests, he holds intercourse with gentlemen of much more respectable appearance than himself, from the same part of the country.–Bill of fare; wines printed on the back, but nobody calls for a bottle. Chairs turned down for expected guests. Three-pronged steel forks. Cold supper from nine to eleven P.M. Great, round, mahogany table, in the sitting-room, covered with papers. In the morning, before and soon after breakfast, gentlemen reading the morning papers, while others wait for their chance, or try to pick out something from the papers of yesterday or longer ago. In the forenoon, the Southern papers are brought in, and thrown damp and folded on the table. The eagerness with which those who happen to be in the room start up and make prize of them. Play-bills, printed on yellow paper, laid upon the table. Towards evening comes the “Transcript.”
Caresses, expressions of one sort or another, are necessary to the life of the affections, as leaves are to the life of a tree. If they are wholly restrained, love will die at the roots.
Cupid in these latter times has probably laid aside his bow and arrows, and uses fire-arms,–a pistol,–perhaps a revolver.
I burned great heaps of old letters, and other papers, a little while ago, preparatory to going to England. Among them were hundreds of letters. The world has no more such, and now they are all dust and ashes. What a trustful guardian of secret matters is fire! What should we do without fire and death?
April 11th.–I meditated accordingly, but without any very wonderful result. Then at eight o’clock bothered myself till after nine with this eternal tale of Tieck. The forenoon was spent in scribbling; but at eleven o’clock my thoughts ceased to flow,–indeed, their current has been wofully interrupted all along,–so I threw down my pen, and set out on the daily journey to the village. Horrible walking! I wasted the customary hour at the Athenæum, and returned home, if home it may now be called. Till dinner-time I labored on Tieck’s tale, and resumed that agreeable employment after the banquet.
Just when I was on the point of choking with a huge German word, Molly announced Mr. Thoreau. He wished to take a row in the boat, for the last time, perhaps, before he leaves Concord. So we emptied the water out of her, and set forth on our voyage. She leaks, but not more than she did in the autumn. We rowed to the foot of the hill which borders the North Branch, and there landed, and climbed the moist and snowy hill-side for the sake of the prospect. Looking down the river, it might well have been mistaken for an arm of the sea, so broad is now its swollen tide; and I could have fancied that, beyond one other headland, the mighty ocean would outspread itself before the eye. On our return we boarded a large cake of ice, which was floating down the river, and were borne by it directly to our own landing-place, with the boat towing behind.
Parting with Mr. Thoreau, I spent half an hour in chopping wood, when Molly informed me that Mr. Emerson wished to see me. He had brought a letter of Ellery Channing, written in a style of very pleasant humor. This being read and discussed, togetherwith a few other matters, he took his leave, since which I have been attending to my journalizing duty; and thus this record is brought down to the present moment.
8 April. Yesterday incapable of writing even one word. Today no better. Who will save me? And the turmoil in me, deep down, scarcely visible; I am like a living lattice-work, a lattice that is solidly planted and would like to tumble down.
Today in the coffee-house with Werfel. How he looked from the distance, seated at the coffee-house table. Stooped, half reclining even in the wooden chair, the beautiful profile of his face pressed against his chest, his face almost wheezing in its fullness (not really fat); entirely indifferent to the surroundings, impudent, and without flaw. His dangling glasses by contrast make it easier to trace the delicate outlines of his face.
From the diaries of Franz Kafka. The entry is from 8 April 1914. English translation by Martin Greenberg.
Always eat grapes downwards—that is, always eat the best grape first; in this way there will be none better left on the bunch, and each grape will seem good down to the last. If you eat the other way, you will not have a good grape in the lot. Besides, you will be tempting Providence to kill you before you come to the best. This is why autumn seems better than spring: in the autumn we are eating our days downwards, in the spring each day still seems “Very bad.” People should live on this principle more than they do, but they do live on it a good deal; from the age of, say, fifty we eat our days downwards.
In New Zealand for a long time I had to do the washing-up after each meal. I used to do the knives first, for it might please God to take me before I came to the forks, and then what a sell it would have been to have done the forks rather than the knives!
From Samuel Butler’s Note-Books
27. March. Monday, on the street. The boy who with several others, threw a large ball at a servant girl walking defencelessly in front of them; just as the ball was flying at the girls’ behind I grabbed him by the throat, choked him in a fury, thrust him aside, and swore. Then walked on and didn’t even look at the girl. One quite forgets one’s earthly existence because one is so entirely full of fury is permitted to believe that, given the opportunity, one would in the same way fill oneself with even more beautiful emotions.
Franz Kafka’s diary entry, 27 March 1912. Translation by Joseph Kresh.