Thursday, November 24th.–This is Thanksgiving Day, a good old festival, and we have kept it with our hearts, and, besides, have made good cheer upon our turkey and pudding, and pies and custards, although none sat at our board but our two selves. There was a new and livelier sense, I think, that we have at last found a home, and that a new family has been gathered since the last Thanksgiving Day. There have been many bright, cold days latterly,–so cold that it has required a pretty rapid pace to keep one’s self warm a-walking. Day before yesterday I saw a party of boys skating on a pond of water that has overflowed a neighboring meadow. Running water has not yet frozen. Vegetation has quite come to a stand, except in a few sheltered spots. In a deep ditch we found a tall plant of the freshest and healthiest green, which looked as if it must have grown within the last few weeks. We wander among the wood-paths, which are very pleasant in the sunshine of the afternoons, the trees looking rich and warm,–such of them, I mean, as have retained their russet leaves; and where the leaves are strewn along the paths, or heaped plentifully in some hollow of the hills, the effect is not without a charm. To-day the morning rose with rain, which has since changed to snow and sleet; and now the landscape is as dreary as can well be imagined,–white, with the brownness of the soil and withered grass everywhere peeping out. The swollen river, of a leaden hue, drags itself sullenly along; and this may be termed the first winter’s day.
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.
February 11th.–I have been measuring coal all day, on board of a black little British schooner, in a dismal dock at the north end of the city. Most of the time I paced the deck to keep myself warm; for the wind (northeast, I believe) blew up through the dock, as if it had been the pipe of a pair of bellows. The vessel lying deep between two wharves, there was no more delightful prospect, on the right hand and on the left, than the posts and timbers, half immersed in the water, and covered with ice, which the rising and falling of successive tides had left upon them, so that they looked like immense icicles. Across the water,however, not more than half a mile off, appeared the Bunker Hill Monument; and, what interested me considerably more, a church-steeple, with the dial of a clock upon it, whereby I was enabled to measure the march of the weary hours. Sometimes I descended into the dirty little cabin of the schooner, and warmed myself by a red-hot stove, among biscuit-barrels, pots and kettles, sea-chests, and innumerable lumber of all sorts,–my olfactories, meanwhile, being greatly refreshed by the odor of a pipe, which the captain, or some one of his crew, was smoking. But at last came the sunset, with delicate clouds, and a purple light upon the islands; and I blessed it, because it was the signal of my release.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for February 11th, 1840. From Passages from the American Note-Books.
Salem, September 14th.–. . . Master Cheever is a very good subject for a sketch, especially if he be portrayed in the very act of executing judgment on an evil-doer. The little urchin may be laid across his knee, and his arms and legs, and whole person indeed, should be flying all abroad, in an agony of nervous excitement and corporeal smart. The Master, on the other hand, must be calm, rigid, without anger or pity, the very personification of that immitigable law whereby suffering follows sin. Meantime the lion’s head should have a sort of sly twist on one side of its mouth, and a wink of one eye, in order to give the impression that, after all, the crime and the punishment are neither of them the most serious things in the world. I could draw the sketch myself, if I had but the use of —-‘s magic fingers.
Then the Acadians will do very well for the second sketch. They might be represented as just landing on the wharf; or as presenting themselves before Governor Shirley, seated in the great chair. Another subject might be old Cotton Mather, venerable in a three-cornered hat and other antique attire, walking the streets of Boston, and lifting up his hands to bless the people, while they all revile him. An old dame should be seen, flinging water, or emptying some vials of medicine, on his head from the latticed window of an old-fashioned house; and all around must be tokens of pestilence and mourning,–as a coffin borne along,–a woman or children weeping on a doorstep. Can the tolling of the Old South bell be painted?
If not this, then the military council, holden at Boston by the Earl of Loudon and other captains and governors, might be taken,–his lordship in the great chair, an old-fashioned, military figure, with a star on his breast. Some of Louis XV.’s commanders will give the costume. On the table, and scattered about the room, must be symbols of warfare,–swords, pistols, plumed hats, a drum, trumpet, and rolled-up banner in one heap. It were not amiss to introduce the armed figure of an Indian chief, as taking part in the council,–or standing apart from the English, erect and stern.
Now for Liberty Tree. There is an engraving of that famous vegetable in Snow’s History of Boston. If represented, I see not what scene can be beneath it, save poor Mr. Oliver, taking the oath. He must have on a bag-wig, ruffled sleeves, embroidered coat, and all such ornaments, because he is the representative of aristocracy and an artificial system. The people may be as rough and wild as the fancy can make them; nevertheless, there must be one or two grave, puritanical figures in the midst. Such an one might sit in the great chair, and be an emblem of that stern, considerate spirit which brought about the Revolution. But this would be a hard subject.
But what a dolt am I to obtrude my counsel, . . .
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for September 14th, 1841. From Passages from the American Note-Books.
A young man and girl meet together, each in search of a person to be known by some particular sign. They watch and wait a great while for that person to pass. At last some casual circumstance discloses that each is the one that the other is waiting for. Moral,–that what we need for our happiness is often close at hand, if we knew but how to seek for it.
The journal of a human heart for a single day in ordinary circumstances. The lights and shadows that flit across it; its internal vicissitudes.
Distrust to be thus exemplified: Various good and desirable things to be presented to a young man, and offered to his acceptance,–as a friend, a wife, a fortune; but he to refuse them all, suspecting that it is merely a delusion. Yet all to be real, and he to be told so, when too late.
A man tries to be happy in love; he cannot sincerely give his heart, and the affair seems all a dream. In domestic life, the same; in politics, a seeming patriot; but still he is sincere, and all seems like a theatre.
An old man, on a summer day, sits on a hill-top, or on the observatory of his house, and sees the sun’s light pass from one object to another connected with the events of his past life,–as the school-house, the place where his wife lived in her maidenhood,–its setting beams falling on the churchyard.
An idle man’s pleasures and occupations and thoughts during a day spent by the seashore: among them, that of sitting on the top of a cliff, and throwing stones at his own shadow, far below.
A blind man to set forth on a walk through ways unknown to him, and to trust to the guidance of anybody who will take the trouble; the different characters who would undertake it: some mischievous, some well-meaning, but incapable; perhaps one blind man undertakes to lead another. At last, possibly, he rejects all guidance, and blunders on by himself.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 22nd, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books. The full journal entry contains a description of a walk, a note on Hawthorne’s ancestors, and a description of a portrait gallery in the Essex Historical Society.
August 15th.–George Hillard and his wife arrived from Boston in the dusk of Saturday evening, to spend Sunday with us. It was a pleasant sensation, when the coach rumbled up our avenue, and wheeled round at the door; for I felt that I was regarded as a man with a household,–a man having a tangible existence and locality in the world,–when friends came to avail themselves of our hospitality. It was a sort of acknowledgment and reception of us into the corps of married people,–a sanction by no means essential to our peace and well-being, but yet agreeable enough to receive. So we welcomed them cordially at the door, and ushered them into our parlor, and soon into the supper-room. . . . The night flitted over us all, and passed away, and up rose a gray and sullen morning, . . . and we had a splendid breakfast of flapjacks, or slapjacks, and whortleberries, which I gathered on a neighboring hill, and perch, bream, and pout, which I hooked out of the river the evening before. About nine o’clock, Hillard and I set out for a walk to Walden Pond, calling by the way at Mr. Emerson’s, to obtain his guidance or directions, and he accompanied us in his own illustrious person. We turned aside a little from our way, to visit Mr. —-, a yeoman, of whose homely and self-acquired wisdom Mr. Emerson has a very high opinion. We found him walking in his fields, a short and stalwart and sturdy personage of middle age, with a face of shrewd and kind expression, and manners of natural courtesy. He had a very free flow of talk; for, with a little induction from Mr. Emerson, he began to discourse about the state of the nation, agriculture, and business in general, uttering thoughts that had come to him at the plough, and which had a sortof flavor of the fresh earth about them. His views were sensible and characteristic, and had grown in the soil where we found them; . . . and he is certainly a man of intellectual and moral substance, a sturdy fact, a reality, something to be felt and touched, whose ideas seem to be dug out of his mind as he digs potatoes, beets, carrots, and turnips out of the ground.
After leaving Mr. —-, we proceeded through wood-paths to Walden Pond, picking blackberries of enormous size along the way. The pond itself was beautiful and refreshing to my soul, after such long and exclusive familiarity with our tawny and sluggish river. It lies embosomed among wooded hills,–it is not very extensive, but large enough for waves to dance upon its surface, and to look like a piece of blue firmament, earth-encircled. The shore has a narrow, pebbly strand, which it was worth a day’s journey to look at, for the sake of the contrast between it and the weedy, oozy margin of the river. Farther within its depths, you perceive a bottom of pure white sand, sparkling through the transparent water, which, methought, was the very purest liquid in the world. After Mr. Emerson left us, Hillard and I bathed in the pond, and it does really seem as if my spirit, as well as corporeal person, were refreshed by that bath. A good deal of mud and river slime had accumulated on my soul; but these bright waters washed them all away.
We returned home in due season for dinner, . . . To my misfortune, however, a box of Mediterranean wine proved to have undergone the acetous fermentation; so that the splendor of the festival suffered some diminution. Nevertheless, we ate our dinner with a good appetite, and afterwards went universally to takeour several siestas. Meantime there came a shower, which so besprinkled the grass and shrubbery as to make it rather wet for our after-tea ramble. The chief result of the walk was the bringing home of an immense burden of the trailing clematis-vine, now just in blossom, and with which all our flower-stands and vases are this morning decorated. On our return we found Mr. and Mrs. S—- , and E. H—-, who shortly took their leave, and we sat up late, telling ghost-stories. This morning, at seven, our friends left us. We were both pleased with the visit, and so, I think, were our guests.
Chorlton Road, August 9th.–We have changed our lodgings since my last date, those at Old Trafford being inconvenient, and the landlady a sharp, peremptory housewife, better fitted to deal with her own family than to be complaisant to guests. We are now a little farther from the Exhibition, and not much better off as regards accommodation, but the housekeeper is a pleasant, civil sort of a woman, auspiciously named Mrs. Honey. The house is a specimen of the poorer middle-class dwellings as built nowadays,–narrow staircase, thin walls, and, being constructed for sale, very ill put together indeed,–the floors with wide cracks between the boards, and wide crevices admitting both air and light over the doors, so that the house is full of draughts. The outer walls, it seems to me, are but of one brick in thickness, and the partition walls certainly no thicker; and the movements, and sometimes the voices, of people in the contiguous house are audible to us. The Exhibition has temporarily so raised the value of lodgings here that we have to pay a high price for even such a house as this.
Mr. Wilding having gone on a tour to Scotland, I had to be at the Consulate every day last week till yesterday; when I absented myself from duty, and went to the Exhibition. U– and I spent an hour together, looking principally at the old Dutch masters, who seem to me the most wonderful set of men that ever handled a brush. Such lifelike representations of cabbages, onions, brass kettles, and kitchen crockery; such blankets, with the woollen fuzz upon them; such everything I never thought that the skill of man could produce! Even the photograph cannot equal their miracles. The closer you look, the more minutely true the picture is found to be, and I doubt if even the microscope could see beyond the painter’s touch. Gerard Dow seems to be the master among these queer magicians. A straw mat, in one of his pictures, is the most miraculous thing that human art has yet accomplished; and there is a metal vase, with a dent in it, that is absolutely more real than reality. These painters accomplish all they aim at,–a praise, methinks, which can be given to no other men since the world began. They must have laid down their brushes with perfect satisfaction, knowing that each one of their million touches had been necessary to the effect, and that there was not one too few nor too many. And it is strange how spiritual and suggestive the commonest household article–an earthen pitcher, for example–becomes, when represented with entire accuracy. These Dutchmen got at the soul of common things, and so made them types and interpreters of the spiritual world.
Afterwards I looked at many of the pictures of the old masters, and found myself gradually getting a taste for them; at least they give me more and more pleasure the oftener I come to see them. Doubtless, I shall be able to pass for a man of taste by the time I return to America. It is an acquired taste, like that for wines; and I question whether a man is really any truer, wiser, or better for possessing it. From the old masters, I went among the English painters, and found myself more favorably inclined towards some of them than at my previous visits; seeing something wonderful even in Turner’s lights and mists and yeasty waves, although I should like him still better if his pictures looked in the least like what they typify. The most disagreeable of English painters is Etty, who had a diseased appetite for woman’s flesh, and spent his whole life, apparently, in painting them with enormously developed busts. I do not mind nudity in a modest and natural way; but Etty’s women really thrust their nudity upon you with malice aforethought. . . . and the worst of it is they are not beautiful.
Among the last pictures that I looked at was Hogarth’s March to Finchley; and surely nothing can be covered more thick and deep with English nature than that piece of canvas. The face of the tall grenadier in the centre, between two women, both of whom have claims on him, wonderfully expresses trouble and perplexity; and every touch in the picture meant something and expresses what it meant.
The price of admission, after two o’clock, being six-pence, the Exhibition was thronged with a class of people who do not usually come in such large numbers. It was both pleasant and touching to see how earnestly some of them sought to get instruction from what they beheld. The English are a good and simple people, and take life in earnest.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 9th, 1857. From Passages from the English Note-Books.
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 journal entry for July 29th, 1838”
July 10th.–A fishing excursion, last Saturday afternoon, eight or ten miles out in the harbor. A fine wind out, which died away towards evening, and finally became quite calm. We cooked our fish on a rock named “Satan,” about forty feet long and twenty broad, irregular in its shape, and of uneven surface, with pools of water here and there, left by the tide,–dark brown rock, or whitish; there was the excrement of sea-fowl scattered on it, and a few feathers. The water was deep around the rock, and swelling up and downward, waving the seaweed. We built two fires, which, as the dusk deepened, cast a red gleam over the rock and the waves, and made the sea, on the side away from the sunset, look dismal; but by and by up came the moon, red as a house afire, and, as it rose, it grew silvery bright, and threw a line of silver across the calm sea. Beneath the moon and the horizon, the commencement of its track of brightness, there was a cone of blackness, or of very black blue. It was after nine before we finished our supper, which we ate by firelight and moonshine, and then went aboard our decked boat again,–no safe achievement in our ticklish little dory. To those remaining in the boat, we had looked very picturesque around our fires, and on the rock above them,–our statues being apparently increased to the size of the sons of Anak. The tide, now coming up, gradually dashed over the fires we had left, and so the rock again became a desert. The wind had now entirely died away, leaving the sea smooth as glass, except a quiet swell, and we could only float along, as the tide bore us, almost imperceptibly. It was as beautiful a night as ever shone,–calm, warm, bright, the moon being at full. On one side of us was Marblehead light-house, on the other, Baker’s Island; and both, by the influence of the moonlight, had a silvery hue, unlike their ruddy beacon tinge in dark nights. They threw long reflections across the sea, like the moon. There we floated slowly with the tide till about midnight, and then, the tide turning, we fastened our vessel to a pole, which marked a rock, so as to prevent being carried back by the reflux. Some of the passengers turned in below; some stretched themselves on deck; some walked about, smoking cigars. I kept the deck all night. Once there was a little cat’s-paw of a breeze, whereupon we untied ourselves from the pole; but it almost immediately died away, and we were compelled to make fast again. At about two o’clock, up rose the morning-star, a round, red, fiery ball, very comparable to the moon at its rising, and, getting upward, it shone marvelously bright, and threw its long reflection into the sea, like the moon and the two light-houses. It was Venus, and the brightest star I ever beheld; it was in the northeast. The moon made but a very small circuit in the sky, though it shone all night. The aurora borealis shot upwards to the zenith, and between two and three o’clock the first streak of dawn appeared, stretching far along the edge of the eastern horizon,–a faint streak of light; then it gradually broadened and deepened, and became a rich saffron tint, with violet above, and then an ethereal and transparent blue. The saffron became intermixed with splendor, kindling and kindling, Baker’s Island lights being in the centre of the brightness, so that they were extinguished by it, or at least grew invisible. On the other side of the boat, the Marblehead light-house still threw out its silvery gleam, and the moon shone brightly too; and its light looked very singularly, mingling with the growing daylight. It was not like the moonshine, brightening as the evening twilight deepens; for now it threw its radiance over the landscape, the green and other tints of which were displayed by the daylight, whereas at evening all those tints are obscured. It looked like a milder sunshine,–a dreamy sunshine,–the sunshine of a world not quite so real and material as this. All night we had heard the Marblehead clocks telling the hour. Anon, up came the sun, without any bustle, but quietly, his antecedent splendors having gilded the sea for some time before. It had been cold towards morning, but now grew warm, and gradually burning hot in the sun. A breeze sprang up, but our first use of it was to get aground on Coney Island about five o’clock, where we lay till nine or thereabout, and then floated slowly up to the wharf. The roar of distant surf, the rolling of porpoises, the passing of shoals of fish, a steamboat smoking along at a distance, were the scene on my watch. I fished during the night, and, feeling something on the line, I drew up with great eagerness and vigor. It was two of those broad-leaved sea-weeds, with stems like snakes, both rooted on a stone,–all which came up together. Often these sea-weeds root themselves on mussels. In the morning, our pilot killed a flounder with the boat-hook, the poor fish thinking himself secure on the bottom.
June 1st, 1842.–One of my chief amusements is to see the boys sail their miniature vessels on the Frog Pond. There is a great variety of shipping owned among the young people, and they appear to have a considerable knowledge of the art of managing vessels. There is a full-rigged man-of-war, with, I believe, every spar, rope, and sail, that sometimes makes its appearance; and, when on a voyage across the pond, it so identically resembles a great ship, except in size, that it has the effect of a picture. All its motions,–its tossing up and down on the small waves, and its sinking and rising in a calm swell, its heeling to the breeze,–the whole effect, in short, is that of a real ship at sea; while, moreover, there is something that kindles the imagination more than the reality would do. If we see a real, great ship, the mind grasps and possesses, within its real clutch, all that there is of it; while here the mimic ship is the representation of an ideal one, and so gives us a more imaginative pleasure. There are many schooners that ply to and fro on the pond, and pilot-boats, all perfectly rigged. I saw a race, the other day, between the ship above mentioned and a pilot-boat, in which the latter came off conqueror. The boys appear to be well acquainted with all the ropes and sails, and can call them by their nautical names. One of the owners of the vessels remains on one side of the pond, and the other on the opposite side, and so they send the little bark to and fro, like merchants of different countries, consigning their vessels to one another.
Generally, when any vessel is on the pond, there are full-grown spectators, who look on with as much interest as the boys themselves. Towards sunset, this is especially the case: for then are seen young girls and their lovers; mothers, with their little boys in hand; school-girls, beating hoops round about, and occasionally running to the side of the pond; rough tars, or perhaps masters or young mates of vessels, who make remarks about the miniature shipping, and occasionally give professional advice to the navigators; visitors from the country; gloved and caned young gentlemen,–in short, everybody stops to take a look. In the mean time, dogs are continually plunging into the pond, and swimming about, with noses pointed upward, and snatching at floating chips; then emerging, they shake themselves, scattering a horizontal shower on the clean gowns of ladies and trousers of gentlemen; then scamper to and fro on the grass, with joyous barks.
Some boys cast off lines of twine with pin-hooks, and perhaps pull out a horned-pout,–that being, I think, the only kind of fish that inhabits the Frog Pond.
The ship-of-war above mentioned is about three feet from stem to stern, or possibly a few inches more. This, if I mistake not, was the size of a ship-of-the-line in the navy of Liliput.
April 28th.–For a week we have found the trailing arbutus pretty abundant in the woods. A day or two since, Una found a few purple violets, and yesterday a dandelion in bloom. The fragrance of the arbutus is spicy and exquisite.
April 16th.–. . . Since I last wrote, there has been an addition to our community of four gentlemen in sables, who promise to be among our most useful and respectable members. They arrived yesterday about noon. Mr. Ripley had proposed to them to join us, no longer ago than that very morning. I had some conversation with them in the afternoon, and was glad to hear them express much satisfaction with their new abode and all the arrangements. They do not appear to be very communicative, however,–or perhaps it may be merely an external reserve, like my own, to shield their delicacy. Several of theirprominent characteristics, as well as their black attire, lead me to believe that they are members of the clerical profession; but I have not yet ascertained from their own lips what has been the nature of their past lives. I trust to have much pleasure in their society, and, sooner or later, that we shall all of us derive great strength from our intercourse with them. I cannot too highly applaud the readiness with which these four gentlemen in black have thrown aside all the fopperies and flummeries which have their origin in a false state of society. When I last saw them, they looked as heroically regardless of the stains and soils incident to our profession as I did when I emerged from the gold-mine, . . .
I have milked a cow!!! . . . The herd has rebelled against the usurpation of Miss Fuller’s heifer; and, whenever they are turned out of the barn, she is compelled to take refuge under our protection. So much did she impede my labors by keeping close to me, that I found it necessary to give her two or three gentle pats with a shovel; but still she preferred to trust herself to my tender mercies, rather than venture among the horns of the herd. She is not an amiable cow; but she has a very intelligent face, and seems to be of a reflective cast of character. I doubt not that she will soon perceive the expediency of being on good terms with the rest of the sisterhood.
I have not yet been twenty yards from our house and barn; but I begin to perceive that this is a beautiful place. The scenery is of a mild and placid character, with nothing bold in its aspect; but I think its beauties will grow upon us, and make us love it the more, the longer we live here. There is a brook, so near the house that we shall be able to hear its ripplein the summer evenings, . . . but, for agricultural purposes, it has been made to flow in a straight and rectangular fashion, which does it infinite damage as a picturesque object. . . .
It was a moment or two before I could think whom you meant by Mr. Dismal View. Why, he is one of the best of the brotherhood, so far as cheerfulness goes; for if he do not laugh himself, he makes the rest of us laugh continually. He is the quaintest and queerest personage you ever saw,–full of dry jokes, the humor of which is so incorporated with the strange twistifications of his physiognomy, that his sayings ought to be written down, accompanied with illustrations by Cruikshank. Then he keeps quoting innumerable scraps of Latin, and makes classical allusions, while we are turning over the gold-mine; and the contrast between the nature of his employment and the character of his thoughts is irresistibly ludicrous.
I have written this epistle in the parlor, while Farmer Ripley, and Farmer Farley, and Farmer Dismal View were talking about their agricultural concerns. So you will not wonder if it is not a classical piece of composition, either in point of thought or expression.
April 9th.–There was a great rain yesterday,–wind from the southeast, and the last visible vestige of snow disappeared. It was a small patch near the summit of Bald Mountain, just on the upper verge of a grove of trees. I saw a slight remnant of it yesterday afternoon, but to-day it is quite gone. The grass comes up along the roadside and on favorable exposures, with a sort of green blush. Frogs have been melodious for a fortnight, and the birds sing pleasantly.
March 11th.–After the ground had been completely freed of snow, there has been a snow-storm for the two days preceding yesterday, which made the earth all white again. This morning at sunrise, the thermometer stood at about 18 degrees above zero. Monument Mountain stands out in great prominence, with its dark forest-covered sides, and here and there a large, white patch, indicating tillage or pasture land; but making a generally dark contrast with the white expanse of the frozen and snow-covered lake at its base, and the more undulating white of the surrounding country. Yesterday, under the sunshine of mid-day, and with many voluminous clouds hanging overit, and a mist of wintry warmth in the air, it had a kind of visionary aspect, although still it was brought out in striking relief. But though one could see all its bulgings, round swells, and precipitous abruptnesses, it looked as much akin to the clouds as to solid earth and rock substance. In the early sunshine of the morning, the atmosphere being very clear, I saw the dome of Taconic with more distinctness than ever before, the snow-patches, and brown, uncovered soil on its round head, being fully visible. Generally it is but a dark blue unvaried mountain-top. All the ruggedness of the intervening hill-country was likewise effectively brought out. There seems to be a sort of illuminating quality in new snow, which it loses after being exposed for a day or two to the sun and atmosphere.
Characteristics during the walk–Apple-trees with only here and there an apple on the boughs, among the thinned leaves, the relics of a gathering. In others you observe a rustling, and see the boughs shaking and hear the apples thumping down, without seeing the person who does it. Apples scattered by thewayside, some with pieces bitten out, others entire, which you pick up and taste, and find them harsh, crabbed cider-apples, though they have a pretty, waxen appearance. In sunny spots of woodland, boys in search of nuts, looking picturesque among the scarlet and golden foliage. There is something in this sunny autumnal atmosphere that gives a peculiar effect to laughter and joyous voices,–it makes them infinitely more elastic and gladsome than at other seasons. Heaps of dry leaves tossed together by the wind, as if for a couch and lounging-place for the weary traveller, while the sun is warming it for him. Golden pumpkins and squashes, heaped in the angle of a house till they reach the lower windows. Ox-teams, laden with a rustling load of Indian corn, in the stalk and ear. When an inlet of the sea runs far up into the country, you stare to see a large schooner appear amid the rural landscape; she is unloading a cargo of wood, moist with rain or salt water that has dashed over it. Perhaps you hear the sound of an axe in the woodland; occasionally, the report of a fowling-piece. The travellers in the early part of the afternoon look warm and comfortable as if taking a summer drive; but as eve draws nearer, you meet them well wrapped in topcoats or cloaks, or rough, great surtouts, and red-nosed withal, seeming to take no great comfort, but pressing homeward. The characteristic conversation among teamsters and country squires, where the ascent of a hill causes the chaise to go at the same pace as an ox-team,–perhaps discussing the qualities of a yoke of oxen. The cold, blue aspects of sheets of water. Some of the country shops with the doors closed; others still open as in summer. I meet a wood-sawyer, with his horse and saw on his shoulders, returning from work. As night draws on, you begin to see the gleaming of fires on the ceilings in the houses which you pass. The comfortless appearance of houses at bleak and bare spots,–you wonder how there can be any enjoyment in them. I meet a girl in a chintz gown, with a small shawl on her shoulders, white stockings, and summer morocco shoes,–it looks observable. Turkeys, queer, solemn objects, in black attire, grazing about, and trying to peck the fallen apples, which slip away from their bills.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for October 14th, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.
September 10th.–Here is another beautiful morning, with the sun dimpling in the early sunshine. Four sail-boats are in sight, motionless on the sea, with the whiteness of their sails reflected in it. The heat-haze sleeps along the shore, though not so as quite to hide it, and there is the promise of another very warm day. As yet, however, the air is cool and refreshing. Around the island, there is the little ruffle of a breeze; but where the sail-boats are, a mile or more off, the sea is perfectly calm. The crickets sing, and I hear the chirping of birds besides.
At the base of the light-house yesterday, we saw the wings and feathers of a decayed little bird, and Mr. Thaxter said they often flew against the lantern with such force as to kill themselves, and that large quantities of them might be picked up. How came these little birds out of their nests at night? Why should they meet destruction from the radiance that proves the salvation of other beings?
Mr. Thaxter had once a man living with him who had seen “Old Bab,” the ghost. He met him between the hotel and the sea, and describes him as dressed in a sort of frock, and with a very dreadful countenance.
Two or three years ago, the crew of a wrecked vessel, a brigantine, wrecked near Boon Island, landed on Hog Island of a winter night, and found shelter in the hotel. It was from the eastward. There were six or seven men, with the mate and captain. It was midnight when they got ashore. The common sailors, as soon as they were physically comfortable, seemed to beperfectly at ease. The captain walked the floor, bemoaning himself for a silver watch which he had lost; the mate, being the only married man, talked about his Eunice. They all told their dreams of the preceding night, and saw in them prognostics of the misfortune.
There is now a breeze, the blue ruffle of which seems to reach almost across to the mainland, yet with streaks of calm; and, in one place, the glassy surface of a lake of calmness, amidst the surrounding commotion.
The wind, in the early morning, was from the west, and the aspect of the sky seemed to promise a warm and sunny day. But all at once, soon after breakfast, the wind shifted round to the eastward; and great volumes of fog, almost as dense as cannon-smoke, came sweeping from the eastern ocean, through the valley, and past the house. It soon covered the whole sea, and the whole island, beyond a verge of a few hundred yards. The chilliness was not so great as accompanies a change of wind on the mainland. We had been watching a large ship that was slowly making her way between us and the land towards Portsmouth. This was now hidden. The breeze is still very moderate; but the boat, moored near the shore, rides with a considerable motion, as if the sea were getting up.
Mr. Laighton says that the artist who adorned Trinity Church, in New York, with sculpture wanted some real wings from which to imitate the wings of cherubim. Mr. Thaxter carried him the wings of the white owl that winters here at the Shoals, together with those of some other bird; and the artist gave his cherubim the wings of an owl.
This morning there have been two boat-loads ofvisitors from Rye. They merely made a flying call, and took to their boats again,–a disagreeable and impertinent kind of people.
The Spy arrived before dinner, with several passengers. After dinner, came the Fanny, bringing, among other freight, a large basket of delicious pears to me, together with a note from Mr. B. B. Titcomb. He is certainly a man of excellent taste and admirable behavior. I sent a plateful of pears to the room of each guest now in the hotel, kept a dozen for myself, and gave the balance to Mr. Laighton.
The two Portsmouth young ladies returned in the Spy. I had grown accustomed to their presence, and rather liked them; one of them being gay and rather noisy, and the other quiet and gentle. As to new-comers, I feel rather a distaste to them; and so, I find, does Mr. Laighton,–a rather singular sentiment for a hotel-keeper to entertain towards his guests. However, he treats them very hospitably when once within his doors.
The sky is overcast, and, about the time the Spy and the Fanny sailed, there were a few drops of rain. The wind, at that time, was strong enough to raise white-caps to the eastward of the island, and there was good hope of a storm. Now, however, the wind has subsided, and the weather-seers know not what to forebode.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for September 10th, 1852. From Passages from the American Note-Books.
After breakfast I took my fishing-rod, and went down through our orchard to the river-side; but as three or four boys were already in possession of the best spots along the shore, I did not fish. This river of ours is the most sluggish stream that I ever was acquainted with. I had spent three weeks by its side, and swam across it every day, before I could determine which way its current ran; and then I was compelled to decide the question by the testimony of others, and not by my own observation. Owing to this torpor of the stream, it has nowhere a bright, pebbly shore, nor is there so much as a narrow strip of glistening sand in any part of its course; but it slumbers along between broad meadows, or kisses the tangled grass of mowing-fields and pastures, or bathes the overhanging boughs of elder-bushes and other water-loving plants. Flags and rushes grow along its shallow margin. The yellow water-lily spreads its broad flat leaves upon its surface; and the fragrant white pond-lily occurs in many favored spots,–generally selecting a situation just so far from the river’s brink that it cannot be grasped except at the hazardof plunging in. But thanks be to the beautiful flower for growing at any rate. It is a marvel whence it derives its loveliness and perfume, sprouting as it does from the black mud over which the river sleeps, and from which the yellow lily likewise draws its unclean life and noisome odor. So it is with many people in this world; the same soil and circumstances may produce the good and beautiful, and the wicked and ugly. Some have the faculty of assimilating to themselves only what is evil, and so they become as noisome as the yellow water-lily. Some assimilate none but good influences, and their emblem is the fragrant and spotless pond-lily, whose very breath is a blessing to all the region round about. . . . Among the productions of the river’s margin, I must not forget the pickerel-weed, which grows just on the edge of the water, and shoots up a long stalk crowned with a blue spire, from among large green leaves. Both the flower and the leaves look well in a vase with pond-lilies, and relieve the unvaried whiteness of the latter; and, being all alike children of the waters, they are perfectly in keeping with one another. . . .
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 6th, 1842. From Passages from the American Note-Books.