We sat and talked of ghosts and kindred subjects | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for September 13th, 1851

September 13th.–I spent last evening, as well as part of the evening before, at Mr. Thaxter’s. It is certainly a romantic incident to find such a young man on this lonely island; his marriage with the pretty Miranda is true romance. In our talk we have glanced over many matters, and, among the rest, that of the stage, to prepare himself for which was his first motive in coming hither. He appears quite to have given up any dreams of that kind now. What he will do on returning to the world, as his purpose is, I cannot imagine; but, no doubt, though all their remaining life, both he and she will look back to this rocky ledge, with its handful of soil, as to a Paradise.

Last evening we (Mr., Mrs., and Miss Thaxter) sat and talked of ghosts and kindred subjects; and they told me of the appearance of a little old woman in a striped gown, that had come into that house a few months ago. She was seen by nobody but an Irish nurse, who spoke to her, but received no answer. The little woman drew her chair up towards the fire, and stretched out her feet to warm them. By and by the nurse, who suspected nothing of her ghostly character, went to get a pail of water; and, when she came back, the little woman was not there. It being known precisely how many and what people were on the island, and that no such little woman was among them, the fact of her being a ghost is incontestable. I taught them how to discover the hidden sentiments of letters by suspending a gold ring over them. Ordinarily, since I have been here, we have spent the evening under the piazza, where Mr. Laighton sits to take the air. He seems to avoid the within-doors whenever he can. So there he sits in the sea-breezes, when inland people are probably drawing their chairs to the fire-side; and there I sit with him,–not keeping up a continual flow of talk, but each speaking as any wisdom happens to come into his mind.

The wind, this morning, is from the northwestward, rather brisk, but not very strong. There is a scattering of clouds about the sky; but the atmosphere is singularly clear, and we can see several hills of the interior, the cloud-like White Mountains, and, along the shore, the long white beaches and the dotted dwellings, with great distinctness. Many small vessels spread their wings, and go seaward.

I have been rambling over the southern part of the island, and looking at the traces of habitations there. There are several enclosures,–the largest, perhaps, thirty yards square,–surrounded with a rough stone-wall of very mossy antiquity, built originally broad and strong, two or three large stones in width, and piled up breast-high or more, and taking advantage of the extending ledge to make it higher. Within this enclosure there is almost a clear space of soil, which was formerly, no doubt, cultivated as a garden, but is now close cropt by the sheep and cattle, except where it produces thistles, or the poisonous weed called mercury, which seems to love these old walls, and to rot itself in or near them. These walls are truly venerable, gray, and mossy; and you see at once that the hands that piled the stones must have been long ago turned to dust. Close by the enclosure is the hollow of an old cellar, with rocks tumbled into it, but the layers of stone at the side still to be traced, and bricks, broken or with rounded edges, scattered about, and perhaps pieces of lime; and weeds and grass growing about the whole. Several such sites of former human homes may be seen there, none of which can possibly be later than the Revolution, and probably they are as old as the settlement of the island. The site has Smutty Nose and Star opposite, with a road (that is, a water-road) between, varying from half a mile to a mile. Duck Island is also seen on the left; and, on the right, the shore of the mainland. Behind, the rising ground intercepts the view. Smith’s monument is visible. I do not see where the inhabitants could have kept their boats, unless in the chasms worn by the sea into the rocks. 

One of these chasms has a spring of fresh water in the gravelly base, down to which the sea has worn out. The chasm has perpendicular, though irregular, sides, which the waves have chiselled out very square. Its width varies from ten to twenty feet, widest towards the sea; and on the shelves, up and down the sides, some soil has been here and there accumulated, on which grow grass and wild-flowers,–such as goldenrod, now in bloom, and raspberry-bushes, the fruit of which I found ripe,–the whole making large parts of the sides of the chasm green, its verdure overhanging the strip of sea that dashes and foams into the hollow. Sea-weed, besides what grows upon and shags the submerged rocks, is tossed into the harbor, together with stray pieces of wood, chips, barrel-staves, or (as to-day) an entire barrel, or whatever else the sea happens to have on hand. The water rakes to and fro over the pebbles at the bottom of the chasm, drawing back, and leaving much of it bare, then rushing up, with more or less of foam and fury, according to the force and direction of the wind; though, owing to the protection of the adjacent islands, it can never have a gale blowing right into its mouth. The spring is situated so far down the chasm, that, at half or two thirds tide, it is covered by the sea. Twenty minutes after the retiring of the tide suffices to restore to it its wonted freshness.

In another chasm, very much like the one here described, I saw a niche in the rock, about tall enough for a person of moderate stature to stand upright. It had a triangular floor and a top, and was just the place to hold the rudest statue that ever a savage made.

Many of the ledges on the island have yellow moss or lichens spread on them in large patches. The moss of those stone walls does really look very old. 

“Old Bab,” the ghost, has a ring round his neck, and is supposed either to have been hung or to have had his throat cut, but he steadfastly declines telling the mode of his death. There is a luminous appearance about him as he walks, and his face is pale and very dreadful.

The Fanny arrived this forenoon, and sailed again before dinner. She brought, as passenger, a Mr. Balch, brother to the country trader who has been spending a few days here. On her return, she has swept the islands of all the non-residents except myself. The wind being ahead, and pretty strong, she will have to beat up, and the voyage will be anything but agreeable. The spray flew before her bows, and doubtless gave the passengers all a thorough wetting within the first half-hour.

The view of Star Island or Gosport from the north is picturesque,–the village, or group of houses, being gathered pretty closely together in the centre of the island, with some green about them; and above all the other edifices, wholly displayed, stands the little stone church, with its tower and belfry. On the right is White Island, with the light-house; to the right of that, and a little to the northward, Londoner’s Rock, where, perhaps, of old, some London ship was wrecked. To the left of Star Island, and nearer Hog, or Appledore, is Smutty Nose. Pour the blue sea about these islets, and let the surf whiten and steal up from their points, and from the reefs about them (which latter whiten for an instant, and then are lost in the whelming and eddying depths), the northwest-wind the while raising thousands of white-caps, and the evening sun shining solemnly over the expanse,–and it is a stern and lovely scene. 

The valleys that intersect, or partially intersect, the island are a remarkable feature. They appear to be of the same formation as the fissures in the rocks, but, as they extend farther from the sea, they accumulate a little soil along the irregular sides, and so become green and shagged with bushes, though with the rock everywhere thrusting itself through. The old people of the isles say that their fathers could remember when the sea, at high tide, flowed quite through the valley in which the hotel stands, and that boats used to pass. Afterwards it was a standing pond; then a morass, with cat-tail flags growing in it. It has filled up, so far as it is filled, by the soil being washed down from the higher ground on each side. The storms, meanwhile, have tossed up the shingle and paving-stones at each end of the valley, so as to form a barrier against the passage of any but such mighty waves as that which thundered through a year or two ago.

The old inhabitants lived in the centre or towards the south of the island, and avoided the north and east because the latter were so much bleaker in winter. They could moor their boats in the road, between Smutty Nose and Hog, but could not draw them up. Mr. Laighton found traces of old dwellings in the vicinity of the hotel, and it is supposed that the principal part of the population was on this island. I spent the evening at Mr. Thaxter’s, and we drank a glass of his 1820 Scheidam. The northwest-wind was high at ten o’clock, when I came home, the tide full, and the murmur of the waves broad and deep.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for September 13th, 1851. Collected in Passages from the American Note-Books.

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THE DIARY OF A CORONER would be a work likely to meet with large popular acceptance | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for March 16th, 1854

March 16th.–Yesterday, at the coroner’s court, attending the inquest on a black sailor who died on board an English vessel, after her arrival at this port. The court-room is capable of accommodating perhaps fifty people, dingy, with a pyramidal skylight above, and a single window on one side, opening into a gloomy back court. A private room, also lighted with a pyramidal skylight, is behind the court-room, into which I was asked, and found the coroner, a gray-headed, grave, intelligent, broad, red-faced man, with an air of some authority, well mannered and dignified, but not exactly a gentleman,–dressed in a blue coat, with a black cravat, showing a shirt-collar above it. Considering how many and what a variety of cases of the ugliest death are constantly coming before him, he was much more cheerful than could be expected, and had a kind of formality and orderliness which I suppose balances the exceptionalities with which he has to deal. In the private room with him was likewise the surgeon, who professionally attends the court. We chatted about suicide and such matters,–the surgeon, the coroner, and I,–until the English case was ready, when we adjourned to the court-room, and the coroner began the examination. The English captain was a rude, uncouth Down-Easter, about thirty years old, and sat on a bench, doubled and bent into an indescribable attitude, out of which he occasionally straightened himself, all the time toying with a ruler, or some such article. The case was one of no interest; the man had been frost-bitten, and died from natural causes, so that no censure was deserved or passed upon the captain. The jury, who had been examining the body, were at first inclined to think that the man had not been frostbitten, but that his feet had been immersed in boiling water; but, on explanation by the surgeon, readily yielded their opinion, and gave the verdict which the coroner put into their mouths, exculpating the captain from all blame. In fact, it is utterly impossible that a jury of chance individuals should not be entirely governed by the judgment of so experienced and weighty a man as the coroner. In the court-room were two or three police officers in uniform, and some other officials, a very few idle spectators, and a few witnesses waiting to be examined. And while the case was going forward, a poor-looking woman came in, and I heard her, in an undertone, telling an attendant of a death that had just occurred. The attendant received the communication in a very quiet and matter-of-course way, said that it should be attended to, and the woman retired.

THE DIARY OF A CORONER would be a work likely to meet with large popular acceptance. A dark passageway, only a few yards in extent, leads from the liveliest street in Liverpool to this coroner’s courtroom, where all the discussion is about murder and suicide. It seems, that, after a verdict of suicide the corpse can only be buried at midnight, without religious rites.

“His lines are cast in pleasant places,”–applied to a successful angler.

A woman’s chastity consists, like an onion, of a series of coats. You may strip off the outer ones without doing much mischief, perhaps none at all; but you keep taking off one after another, in expectation of coming to the inner nucleus, including the whole value of the matter. It proves, however, that there is no such nucleus, and that chastity is diffused through the whole series of coats, is lessened with the removal of each, and vanishes with the final one which you supposed would introduce you to the hidden pearl.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for March 16th, 1854. Collected in Passages from the English Note-Books.

Nothing remarkable to record | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 31st, 1837

July 31st.–Nothing remarkable to record. A child asleep in a young lady’s arms,–a little baby, two or three months old. Whenever anything partially disturbed the child, as, for instance, when the young lady or a by-stander patted its cheek or rubbed its chin, the child would smile; then all its dreams seemed to be of pleasure and happiness. At first the smile was so faint, that I doubted whether it were really a smile or no; but, on further efforts, it brightened forth very decidedly. This, without opening its eyes.–A constable, a homely, good-natured, business-looking man, with a warrant against an Irishman’s wife for throwing a brick-bat at a fellow. He gave good advice to the Irishman about the best method of coming easiest through the affair. Finally settled,–the justice agreeing to relinquish his fees, on condition that the Irishman would pay for the mending of his old boots!

I went with Monsieur S—- yesterday to pick raspberries. He fell through an old log bridge thrown over a hollow; looking back, only his head and shoulders appeared through the rotten logs and among the bushes.–A shower coming on, the rapid running of a little barefooted boy, coming up unheard, and dashing swiftly past us, and showing the soles of his naked feet as he ran adown the path, and up the opposite rise.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 31st, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry of September 18th, 1842

September 18th.–How the summer-time flits away, even while it seems to be loitering onward, arm in arm with autumn! Of late I have walked but little over the hills and through the woods, my leisure being chiefly occupied with my boat, which I have now learned to manage with tolerable skill. Yesterday afternoon I made a voyage alone up the North Branch of Concord River. There was a strong west-wind blowing dead against me, which, together with the current, increased by the height of the water, made the first part of the passage pretty toilsome. The black river was all dimpled over with little eddies and whirlpools; and the breeze, moreover, caused the billows to beat against the bow of the boat, with a sound like the flapping of a bird’s wing. The water-weeds,where they were discernible through the tawny water, were straight outstretched by the force of the current, looking as if they were forced to hold on to their roots with all their might. If for a moment I desisted from paddling, the head of the boat was swept round by the combined might of wind and tide. However, I toiled onward stoutly, and, entering the North Branch, soon found myself floating quietly along a tranquil stream, sheltered from the breeze by the woods and a lofty hill. The current, likewise, lingered along so gently that it was merely a pleasure to propel the boat against it. I never could have conceived that there was so beautiful a river-scene in Concord as this of the North Branch. The stream flows through the midmost privacy and deepest heart of a wood, which, as if but half satisfied with its presence, calm, gentle, and unobtrusive as it is, seems to crowd upon it, and barely to allow it passage; for the trees are rooted on the very verge of the water, and dip their pendent branches into it. On one side there is a high bank, forming the side of a hill, the Indian name of which I have forgotten, though Mr. Thoreau told it to me; and here, in some instances, the trees stand leaning over the river, stretching out their arms as if about to plunge in headlong. On the other side, the bank is almost on a level with the water; and there the quiet congregation of trees stood with feet in the flood, and fringed with foliage down to its very surface. Vines here and there twine themselves about bushes or aspens or alder-trees, and hang their clusters (though scanty and infrequent this season) so that I can reach them from my boat. I scarcely remember a scene of more complete and lovely seclusion than the passage of the river through this wood. Even an Indian canoe, in oldentimes, could not have floated onward in deeper solitude than my boat. I have never elsewhere had such an opportunity to observe how much more beautiful reflection is than what we call reality. The sky, and the clustering foliage on either hand, and the effect of sunlight as it found its way through the shade, giving lightsome hues in contrast with the quiet depth of the prevailing tints,–all these seemed unsurpassably beautiful when beheld in upper air. But on gazing downward, there they were, the same even to the minutest particular, yet arrayed in ideal beauty, which satisfied the spirit incomparably more than the actual scene. I am half convinced that the reflection is indeed the reality, the real thing which Nature imperfectly images to our grosser sense. At any rate, the disembodied shadow is nearest to the soul.

There were many tokens of autumn in this beautiful picture. Two or three of the trees were actually dressed in their coats of many colors,–the real scarlet and gold which they wear before they put on mourning. These stood on low, marshy spots, where a frost has probably touched them already. Others were of a light, fresh green, resembling the hues of spring, though this, likewise, is a token of decay. The great mass of the foliage, however, appears unchanged; but ever and anon down came a yellow leaf, half flitting upon the air, half falling through it, and finally settling upon the water. A multitude of these were floating here and there along the river, many of them curling upward, so as to form little boats, fit for fairies to voyage in. They looked strangely pretty, with yet a melancholy prettiness, as they floated along. The general aspect of the river, however, differed but little from that of summer,–at least the differencedefies expression. It is more in the character of the rich yellow sunlight than in aught else. The water of the stream has now a thrill of autumnal coolness; yet whenever a broad gleam fell across it, through an interstice of the foliage, multitudes of insects were darting to and fro upon its surface. The sunshine, thus falling across the dark river, has a most beautiful effect. It burnishes it, as it were, and yet leaves it as dark as ever.

On my return, I suffered the boat to float almost of its own will down the stream, and caught fish enough for this morning’s breakfast. But, partly from a qualm of conscience, I finally put them all into the water again, and saw them swim away as if nothing had happened.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry of September 18th, 1842

“Remarkable Characters” (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s July 29th, 1838 journal entry)

July 29th.–Remarkable characters:–A disagreeable figure, waning from middle age, clad in a pair of tow homespun pantaloons, and a very soiled shirt, barefoot, and with one of his feet maimed by an axe; also an arm amputated two or three inches below the elbow. His beard of a week’s growth, grim and grisly, with a general effect of black; altogether a disgusting object. Yet he has the signs of having been a handsome man in his idea, though now such a beastly figure that probably no living thing but his great dog would touch him without an effort. Coming to the stoop, where several persons were sitting, “Good morning, gentlemen,” said the wretch. Nobodyanswered for a time, till at last one said, “I don’t know whom you speak to: not to me, I’m sure” (meaning that he did not claim to be a gentleman). “Why I thought I spoke to you all at once,” replied the figure, laughing. So he sat himself down on the lower step of the stoop, and began to talk; and, the conversation being turned upon his bare feet by one of the company, he related the story of his losing his toes by the glancing aside of an axe, and with what great fortitude he bore it. Then he made a transition to the loss of his arm, and, setting his teeth and drawing in his breath, said that the pain was dreadful; but this, too, he seems to have borne like an Indian; and a person testified to his fortitude by saying that he did not suppose there was any feeling in him, from observing how he bore it. The man spoke of the pain of cutting the muscles, and the particular agony at one moment, while the bone was being sawed asunder; and there was a strange expression of remembered anguish, as he shrugged his half-limb, and described the matter. Afterwards, in a reply to a question of mine, whether he still seemed to feel the hand that had been amputated, he answered that he did always; and, baring the stump, he moved the severed muscles, saying, “There is the thumb, there the forefinger,” and so on. Then he talked to me about phrenology, of which he seems a firm believer and skilful practitioner, telling how he had hit upon the true character of many people. There was a great deal of sense and acuteness in his talk, and something of elevation in his expressions,–perhaps a studied elevation, and a sort of courtesy in his manner; but his sense had something out of the way in it; there was something wild and ruined and desperate in his talk, though I can hardlysay what it was. There was a trace of the gentleman and man of intellect through his deep degradation; and a pleasure in intellectual pursuits, and an acuteness and trained judgment, which bespoke a mind once strong and cultivated. “My study is man,” said he. And, looking at me, “I do not know your name,” he said, “but there is something of the hawk-eye about you, too.” Continue reading ““Remarkable Characters” (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s July 29th, 1838 journal entry)”

Incapable of writing even one word (Kafka diary entry, 8 April 1914)

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.

The impenetrable outline of human bodies is horrible (Kafka’s diary, Oct 30, 1921)

30 October. In the afternoon to the theatre, Pallenberg.
The possibilities within me, I won’t say to act or write The Miser, but to be the miser himself. It would need only a sudden determined movement of my hands, the entire orchestra gazes in fascination at the spot above the conductor’s stand where the baton will rise.
Feeling of complete helplessness.
What is it that binds you more intimately to these impenetrable, talking, eye-blinking bodies than to any other thing, the penholder in your hand, for example? Because you belong to the same species? But you don’t belong to the same species, that’s the very reason why you raised this question.
The impenetrable outline of human bodies is horrible.
The wonder, the riddle of my not having perished already, of the silent power guiding me. It forces one to this absurdity: ‘Left to my own resources, I should have long ago been lost.’ My own resources.

From Franz Kafka’s diary entry of October 30, 1921.

Kafka/Cerebus (Books Acquired, 1.31.2014 + Bonus Circumcision Anecdote)

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Picked up books last week, not needing them, but hey.

A digest of Kafka’s diaries; good stuff, great random reading.

This is a great little anecdote:

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Austerlitz is of course the name of a W.G. Sebald novel. From that novel:

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I also picked up the sixth issue of Swords of Cerebus by Dave Sim. It’s a second printing and in terrible shape and I already have the issues in other forms (reprint and graphic novel) but it’s still a pretty rare find. And I am a nerd.

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The book also includes a short little excellent wordless comic, “A Night on the Town,” where Cerebus parties with a corpse. I have the reprint somewhere else, but still:

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“The sight of stairs moves me so today” (Kafka)

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“Life in the jungle” (Kafka)

(From Kafka’s Diaries).

“Evil does not exist” (Kafka)

(From Kafka’s Diaries).

“I have been reading about Dickens” (Kafka)

(From Kafka’s Diaries).

Self-discovery (Kafka)

 

(From Kafka’s diaries).

Honesty of Evil Thoughts (Kafka)

From Kafka’s Diaries.

Kafka Spits a Rat

From Kafka’s unfinished and very strange story “Memoirs of the Kalda Railway.” Collected in Diaries.

“Do You Despair?” (Kafka)

(From a 1910 diary entry).

Faulkner Source Material Discovered

The New York Times reports that “what appears to be the document on which Faulkner modeled that ledger [detailing the genealogy that haunts Go Down, Moses] as well as the source for myriad names, incidents and details that populate his fictionalized Yoknapatawpha County has been discovered.” The article continues:

The original manuscript, a diary from the mid-1800s, was written by Francis Terry Leak, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi whose great-grandson Edgar Wiggin Francisco Jr. was a friend of Faulkner’s since childhood. Mr. Francisco’s son, Edgar Wiggin Francisco III, now 79, recalls the writer’s frequent visits to the family homestead in Holly Springs, Miss., throughout the 1930s, saying Faulkner was fascinated with the diary’s several volumes. Mr. Francisco said he saw them in Faulker’s hands and remembers that he “was always taking copious notes.”

History, particularly the strange, paradoxical, and taboo history of the plantation underwrites almost all of Faulkner’s significant fiction, so any historical document that served to inform his writing will be of particular note to enthusiasts and scholars alike.