Over the scene broods a parallelogram of sombre sky | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for May 16th, 1850

May 16th.–It has been an easterly rain yesterday and to-day, with occasional lightings up, and then a heavy downfall of the gloom again.

Scenes out of the rear windows,–the glistening roof of the opposite houses; the chimneys, now and then choked with their own smoke, which a blast drives down their throats. The church-spire has a mist about it. Once this morning a solitary dove came and alighted on the peak of an attic window, and looked down into the areas, remaining in this position a considerable time. Now it has taken a flight, and alighted on the roof of this house, directly over the window at which I sit, so that I can look up and see its head and beak, and the tips of its claws. The roofs of the low out-houses are black with moisture; the gutters are full of water, and there is a little puddle where there is a place for it in the hollow of a board. On the grass-plot are strewn the fallen blossoms of the cherry-tree, and over the scene broods a parallelogram of sombre sky. Thus it will be all day as it was yesterday; and, in the evening, one window after another will be lighted up in the drawing-rooms. Through the white curtains may be seen the gleam of an astral-lamp, like a fixed star. In the basement rooms, the work of the kitchen going forward; in the upper chambers, here and there a light.

In a bar-room, a large, oval basin let into the counter, with a brass tube rising from the centre, out of which gushes continually a miniature fountain, and descends in a soft, gentle, never-ceasing rain into the basin, where swim a company of gold-fishes. Some of them gleam brightly in their golden armor; others have a dull white aspect, going through some process of transformation. One would think that the atmosphere, continually filled with tobacco-smoke, might impregnate the water unpleasantly for the scaly people; but then it is continually flowing away and being renewed. And what if some toper should be seized with the freak of emptying his glass of gin or brandy into the basin,–would the fishes die or merely get jolly?

I saw, for a wonder, a man pretty drunk at Parker’s the other evening,–a well-dressed man, of not ungentlemanly aspect. He talked loudly and foolishly, but in good phrases, with a great flow of language, and he was no otherwise impertinent than in addressing his talk to strangers. Finally, after sitting a long time staring steadfastly across the room in silence, he arose, and staggered away as best he might, only showing his very drunken state when he attempted to walk.

Old acquaintances,–a gentleman whom I knew ten years ago, brisk, active, vigorous, with a kind of fire of physical well-being and cheerful spirits glowing through him. Now, after a course, I presume, of rather free living, pale, thin, oldish, with a grave and care or pain worn brow,–yet still lively and cheerful in his accost, though with something invincibly saddened in his tones. Another, formerly commander of a revenue vessel,–a man of splendid epaulets and very aristocratic equipment and demeanor; now out of service and without position, and changed into a brandy-burnt and rowdyish sort of personage. He seemed as if he might still be a gentleman if he would; but his manners show a desperate state of mind by their familiarity, recklessness, the lack of any hedge of reserve about himself, while still he is evidently a man of the world, accustomed to good society. He has latterly, I think, been in the Russian service, and would very probably turn pirate on fair occasion.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry, 16 May 1850. From American Note-Books.

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