Nervous and excitable persons need to talk a great deal, by way of letting off their steam | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for December 13th, 1853

December 13th.—Chill, frosty weather; such an atmosphere as forebodes snow in New England, and there has been a little here. Yet I saw a barefooted young woman yesterday. The feet of these poor creatures have exactly the red complexion of their hands, acquired by constant exposure to the cold air.

At the ferry-room, this morning, was a small, thin, anxious-looking woman, with a bundle, seeming in rather poor circumstances, but decently dressed, and eying other women, I thought, with an expression of slight ill-will and distrust; also, an elderly, stout, gray-haired woman, of respectable aspect, and two young lady-like persons, quite pretty, one of whom was reading a shilling volume of James’s “Arabella Stuart.” They talked to one another with that up-and-down intonation which English ladies practise, and which strikes an unaccustomed ear as rather affected, especially in women of size and mass. It is very different from an American lady’s mode of talking: there is the difference between color and no color; the tone variegates it. One of these young ladies spoke to me, making some remark about the weather,—the first instance I have met with of a gentlewoman’s speaking to an unintroduced gentleman. Besides these, a middle-aged man of the lower class, and also a gentleman’s out-door servant, clad in a drab great-coat, corduroy breeches, and drab cloth gaiters buttoned from the knee to the ankle. He complained to the other man of the cold weather; said that a glass of whiskey, every half-hour, would keep a man comfortable; and, accidentally hitting his coarse foot against one of the young lady’s feet, said, “Beg pardon, ma’am,”—which she acknowledged with a slight movement of the head. Somehow or other, different classes seem to encounter one another in an easier manner than with us; the shock is less palpable. I suppose the reason is that the distinctions are real, and therefore need not be continually asserted.

Nervous and excitable persons need to talk a great deal, by way of letting off their steam.

On board the Rock Ferry steamer, a gentleman coming into the cabin, a voice addresses him from a dark corner, “How do you do, sir?”—”Speak again!” says the gentleman. No answer from the dark corner; and the gentleman repeats, “Speak again!” The speaker now comes out of the dark corner, and sits down in a place where he can be seen. “Ah!” cries the gentleman, “very well, I thank you. How do you do? I did not recognize your voice.” Observable, the English caution, shown in the gentleman’s not vouchsafing to say, “Very well, thank you!” till he knew his man.

What was the after life of the young man, whom Jesus, looking on, “loved,” and bade him sell all that he had, and give to the poor, and take up his cross and follow him? Something very deep and beautiful might be made out of this.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for December 13th, 1853. From Passages from the English Note-Books.

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