Scenes and characters | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 11th, 1838

August 11th.–This morning, it being cloudy and boding of rain, the clouds had settled upon the mountains, both on the summits and ridges, all round the town, so that there seemed to be no way of gaining access to the rest of the world, unless by climbing above the clouds. By and by they partially dispersed, giving glimpses of the mountain ramparts through their obscurity, the separate clouds lying heavily upon the mountain’s breast. In warm mornings, after rain, the mist breaks forth from the forests on the ascent of the mountains, like smoke,–the smoke of a volcano; then it soars up, and becomes a cloud in heaven. But these clouds to-day were real rain-clouds. Sometimes, it is said, while laboring up the mountain-side, they suddenly burst, and pour down their moisture in a cataract, sweeping all before it.

Every new aspect of the mountains, or view from a different position, creates a surprise in the mind.

Scenes and characters–A young country fellow, twenty or thereabouts, decently dressed, pained with the toothache. A doctor, passing on horseback, with his black leather saddle-bags behind him, a thin, frosty-haired man. Being asked to operate, he looks at the tooth, lances the gum, and the fellow being content to be dealt with on the spot, he seats himself in a chair on the stoop with great heroism. The doctor produces a rusty pair of iron forceps; a man holds the patient’s head; the doctor perceives that, it being a difficult tooth to get at, wedged between the two largest in his jaws, he must pull very hard; and the instrument is introduced. A turn of the doctor’s hand; the patient begins to utter a cry, but the tooth comes out first, with four prongs . The patient gets up, half amazed, pays the doctor ninepence, pockets the tooth, and the spectators are in glee and admiration.

There was a fat woman, a stage-passenger to-day,–a wonder how she could possibly get through the door, which seemed not so wide as she. When she put her foot on the step, the stage gave a great lurch, she joking all the while. A great, coarse, red-faced dame. Other passengers,–three or four slender Williamstown students, a young girl, and a man with one leg and two crutches.

One of the most sensible men in this village is a plain, tall, elderly person, who is overseeing the mending of a road,–humorous, intelligent, with much thought about matters and things; and while at work he has a sort of dignity in handling the hoe or crowbar, which shows him to be the chief. In the evening he sits under the stoop, silent and observant from under the brim of his hat; but, occasion calling, he holds an argument about the benefit or otherwise of manufactories or other things. A simplicity characterizes him more than appertains to most Yankees.

A man in a pea-green frock-coat, with velvet collar. Another in a flowered chintz frock-coat. There is a great diversity of hues in garments. A doctor, a stout, tall, round-paunched, red-faced, brutal-looking old fellow, who gets drunk daily. He sat down on the step of our stoop, looking surly, and speaking to nobody; then got up and walked homeward, with a morose swagger and a slight unevenness of gait, attended by a fine Newfoundland dog.

A barouche with driver returned from beyond Greenfield or Troy empty, the passengers being left at the former place. The driver stops here for the night, and, while washing, enters into talk with an old man about the different roads over the mountain.

People washing themselves at a common basin in the bar-room! and using the common hair-brushes! perhaps with a consciousness of praiseworthy neatness!

A man with a cradle on his shoulder, having been cradling oats. I attended a child’s funeral yesterday afternoon. There was an assemblage of people in a plain, homely apartment. Most of the men were dressed in their ordinary clothes, and one or two were in shirtsleeves. The coffin was placed in the midst of us, covered with a velvet pall. A bepaid clergyman prayed (the audience remaining seated, while he stood up at the head of the coffin), read a passage of Scripture and commented upon it. While he read and prayed and expounded there was a heavy thunderstorm rumbling among the surrounding hills, and the lightning flashed fiercely through the gloomy room; and the preacher alluded to GOD’S voice of thunder.

It is the custom in this part of the country–and perhaps extensively in the interior of New England–to bury the dead first in a charnel-house, or common tomb, where they remain till decay has so far progressed as to secure them from the resurrectionists. They are then reburied, with certain ceremonies, in their own peculiar graves.

O. E. S—-, a widower of forty or upwards, with a son of twelve and a pair of infant twins. He is a sharp, shrewd Yankee, with a Yankee’s license of honesty. He drinks sometimes more than enough, and is guilty of peccadilloes with the fair sex; yet speaks most affectionately of his wife, and is a fond and careful father. He is a tall, thin, hard-featured man, with a sly expression of almost hidden grave humor, as if there were some deviltry pretty constantly in his mind,–which is probably the case. His brother tells me that he was driven almost crazy by the loss of his wife. It appears to me that men are more affected by the deaths of their wives than wives by the deaths of their husbands. Orrin S—- smokes a pipe, as do many of the guests.

A walk this forenoon up the mountain ridge that walls in the town towards the east. The road is cut zigzag, the mountain being generally as steep as the roof of a house; yet the stage to Greenfield passes over this road two or three times a week. Graylock rose up behind me, appearing, with its two summits and a long ridge between, like a huge monster crouching down slumbering, with its head slightly elevated. Graylock is properly the name for the highest elevation. It appeared to better advantage the higher the point from which I viewed it. There were houses scattered here and there up the mountain-side, growing poorer as I ascended; the last that I passed was a mean log-hut, rough, rude, and dilapidated, with the smoke issuing from a chimney of small stones, plastered with clay; around it a garden of beans, with some attempt at flowers, and a green creeper running over the side of the cottage. Above this point there were various excellent views of mountain scenery, far off and near, and one village lying below in the hollow vale.

Having climbed so far that the road seemed now to go downward, I retraced my steps. There was a wagon descending behind me; and as it followed the zigzag of the road I could hear the voices of the men high over my head, and sometimes I caught a glimpse of the wagon almost perpendicularly above me, while I was looking almost perpendicularly down to the log-hut aforementioned. Trees were thick on either hand,–oaks, pines, and others; and marble occasionally peeped up in the road; and there was a lime-kiln by the wayside, ready for burning.

Graylock had a cloud on his head this morning, the base of a heavy white cloud. The distribution of the sunshine amid mountain scenery is very striking; one does not see exactly why one spot should be in deep obscurity while others are all bright. The clouds throw their shadows upon the hill-sides as they move slowly along,–a transitory blackness. 

I passed a doctor high up the road in a sulky, with his black leather saddle-bags.

Hudson’s Cave is formed by Hudson’s Brook. There is a natural arch of marble still in one part of it. The cliffs are partly made verdant with green moss, chiefly gray with oxidation; on some parts the white of the marble is seen; in interstices grow brake and other shrubs, so that there is naked sublimity seen through a good deal of clustering beauty. Above, the birch, poplars, and pines grow on the utmost verge of the cliffs, which jut far over, so that they are suspended in air; and whenever the sunshine finds its way into the depths of the chasm, the branches wave across it. There is a lightness, however, about their foliage, which greatly relieves what would otherwise be a gloomy scene. After the passage of the stream through the cliffs of marble, the cliffs separate on either side, and leave it to flow onward; intercepting its passage, however, by fragments of marble, some of them huge ones, which the cliffs have flung down, thundering into the bed of the stream through numberless ages. Doubtless some of these immense fragments had trees growing on them, which have now mouldered away. Decaying trunks are heaped in various parts of the gorge. The pieces of marble that are washed by the water are of a snow-white, and partially covered with a bright green water-moss, making a beautiful contrast.

Among the cliffs, strips of earth-beach extend downward, and trees and large shrubs root themselves in that earth, thus further contrasting the nakedness of the stone with their green foliage. But the immediate part where the stream forces its winding passage through the rock is stern, dark, and mysterious. 

Along the road, where it runs beneath a steep, there are high ridges, covered with trees,–the dew of midnight damping the earth, far towards midnoon. I observed the shadows of water-insects, as they swam in the pools of a stream. Looking down a streamlet, I saw a trunk of a tree, which has been overthrown by the wind, so as to form a bridge, yet sticking up all its branches, as if it were unwilling to assist anybody over.

Green leaves, following the eddies of the rivulet, were now borne deep under water, and now emerged. Great uprooted trees, adhering midway down a precipice of earth, hung with their tops downward.

There is an old man, selling the meats of butternuts under the stoop of the hotel. He makes that his station during a part of the season. He was dressed in a dark thin coat, ribbed velvet pantaloons, and a sort of moccasons, or shoes, appended to the legs of woollen stockings. He had on a straw hat, and his hair was gray, with a long, thin visage. His nuts were contained in a square tin box, having two compartments, one for the nuts, and another for maple sugar, which he sells in small cakes. He had three small tin measures for nuts,–one at one cent, others at two, four, and six cents; and as fast as they were emptied, he filled them again, and put them on the top of his box. He smoked a pipe, and talked with one man about whether it would be worth while to grow young again, and the duty of being contented with old age; about predestination and freewill and other metaphysics. I asked him what his sales amounted to in the course of a day. He said that butternuts did not sell so well as walnuts, which are not yet in season; that he might to-day have sold fifty cents’ worth; of walnuts, never less than a dollar’s worth, often more; and when he went round with a caravan, he had sold fifteen dollars’ worth per day, and once as much as twenty dollars’ worth. This promises to be an excellent year for walnuts. Chestnuts have been scarce for two or three years. He had one hundred chestnut-trees on his own land, and last year he offered a man twenty-five cents if he would find him a quart of good chestnuts on them. A bushel of walnuts would cost about ten dollars. He wears a pair of silver-rimmed spectacles.

A drunken fellow sat down by him, and bought a cent’s worth of his butternuts, and inquired what he would sell out to him for. The old man made an estimate, though evidently in jest, and then reckoned his box, measures, meats, and what little maple sugar he had, at four dollars. He had a very quiet manner, and expressed an intention of going to the Commencement at Williamstown to-morrow; His name, I believe, is Captain Gavett.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 11th, 1838. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

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Among the productions of the river’s margin | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 6th, 1842

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.

A nest of chimney-swallows was washed down the chimney into the fireplace | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 1st, 1837

August 1st.–There having been a heavy rain yesterday, a nest of chimney-swallows was washed down the chimney into the fireplace of one of the front rooms. My attention was drawn to them by a most obstreperous twittering; and looking behind the fire-board, there were three young birds, clinging with their feet against one of the jambs, looking at me, open-mouthed, and all clamoring together, so as quite to fill the room with the short, eager, frightened sound. The old birds, by certain signs upon the floor of the room, appeared to have fallen victims to the appetite of the cat. La belle Nancy provided a basket filled with cotton-wool, into which the poor little devils were put; and I tried to feed them with soaked bread, of which, however, they did not eat with much relish. Tom, the Irish boy, gave it as his opinion that they were not old enough to be weaned. I hung the basket out of the window, in the sunshine, and uponlooking in, an hour or two after, found that two of the birds had escaped. The other I tried to feed, and sometimes, when a morsel of bread was thrust into its open mouth, it would swallow it. But it appeared to suffer very much, vociferating loudly when disturbed, and panting, in a sluggish agony, with eyes closed, or half opened, when let alone. It distressed me a good deal; and I felt relieved, though somewhat shocked, when B—- put an end to its misery by squeezing its head and throwing it out of the window. They were of a slate-color, and might, I suppose, have been able to shift for themselves.–The other day a little yellow bird flew into one of the empty rooms, of which there are half a dozen on the lower floor, and could not find his way out again, flying at the glass of the windows, instead of at the door, thumping his head against the panes or against the ceiling. I drove him into the entry and chased him from end to end, endeavoring to make him fly through one of the open doors. He would fly at the circular light over the door, clinging to the casement, sometimes alighting on one of the two glass lamps, or on the cords that suspended them, uttering an affrighted and melancholy cry whenever I came near and flapped my handkerchief, and appearing quite tired and sinking into despair. At last he happened to fly low enough to pass through the door, and immediately vanished into the gladsome sunshine.–Ludicrous situation of a man, drawing his chaise down a sloping bank, to wash in the river. The chaise got the better of him, and, rushing downward as if it were possessed, compelled him to run at full speed, and drove him up to his chin into the water. A singular instance, that a chaise may run away with a man without a horse!

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 1st, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

Sometimes not so adequate | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 14th, 1850

Lenox, July 14th.–The tops of the chestnut-trees have a whitish appearance, they being, I suppose, in bloom. Red raspberries are just through the season.

Language,–human language,–after all, is but little better than the croak and cackle of fowls and other utterances of brute nature,–sometimes not so adequate.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 14th, 1850. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

Then would she wheedle and laugh and blarney, beginning in a rage, and ending as if she had been in jest | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 9th, 1837

July 9th.–Went with B—- to pay a visit to the shanties of the Irish and Canadians. He says that they sell and exchange these small houses among themselves continually. They may be built in three or four days, and are valued at four or five dollars. When the turf that is piled against the walls of some of them becomes covered with grass, it makes quite a picturesque object. It was almost dusk–just candle-lighting time–when we visited them. A young Frenchwoman, with a baby in her arms, came to the door of one of them, smiling, and looking pretty and happy. Her husband, a dark, black-haired, lively little fellow, caressed the child, laughing and singing to it; and there was a red-bearded Irishman, who likewise fondled the little brat. Then we could hear them within the hut, gabbling merrily, and could see them moving about briskly in the candlelight, through the window and open door. An old Irishwoman sat in the door of another hut, under the influence of an extra dose of rum,–she being an old lady of somewhat dissipated habits. She called to B—-, and began to talk to him about her resolution not to give up her house: for it is his design to get her out of it. She is a true virago, and, though somewhat restrained by respect for him, she evinced a sturdy design to remain here through the winter, or at least for a considerable time longer. He persisting, she took her stand in the doorway of the hut, and stretched out her fist in a very Amazonian attitude. “Nobody,” quoth she, “shall drive me out of this house, till my praties are out of the ground.” Then would she wheedle and laugh and blarney, beginning in a rage, and ending as if she had been in jest. Meanwhile her husband stood by very quiet, occasionally trying to still her; but itis to be presumed, that, after our departure, they came to blows, it being a custom with the Irish husbands and wives to settle their disputes with blows; and it is said the woman often proves the better man. The different families also have battles, and occasionally the Irish fight with the Canadians. The latter, however, are much the more peaceable, never quarrelling among themselves, and seldom with their neighbors. They are frugal, and often go back to Canada with considerable sums of money. B—- has gained much influence both with the Irish and the French,–with the latter, by dint of speaking to them in their own language. He is the umpire in their disputes, and their adviser, and they look up to him as a protector and patron-friend. I have been struck to see with what careful integrity and wisdom he manages matters among them, hitherto having known him only as a free and gay young man. He appears perfectly to understand their general character, of which he gives no very flattering description. In these huts, less than twenty feet square, he tells me that upwards of twenty people have sometimes been lodged.

A description of a young lady who had formerly been insane, and now felt the approach of a new fit of madness. She had been out to ride, had exerted herself much, and had been very vivacious. On her return, she sat down in a thoughtful and despondent attitude, looking very sad, but one of the loveliest objects that ever were seen. The family spoke to her, but she made no answer, nor took the least notice; but still sat like a statue in her chair,–a statue of melancholy and beauty. At last they led her away to her chamber.

We went to meeting this forenoon. I saw nothing remarkable, unless a little girl in the next pew to us, three or four years old, who fell asleep, with her head in the lap of her maid, and looked very pretty: a picture of sleeping innocence.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 9th, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

Growing dark with a pleasant gloom | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 8th, 1837

 July 8th.–Yesterday afternoon, a stroll with B—- up a large brook, he fishing for trout, and I looking on. The brook runs through a valley, on one side bordered by a high and precipitous bank; on the other there is an interval, and then the bank rises upward and upward into a high hill, with gorges and ravines separating one summit from another, and here and there are bare places, where the rain-streams have washed away the grass. The brook is bestrewn with stones, some bare, some partially moss-grown, and sometimes so huge as–once at least–to occupy almost the whole breadth of the current. Amongst these the stream brawls, only that this word does not express its good-natured voice, and “murmur” is too quiet. It sings along, sometimes smooth, with the pebbles visible beneath, sometimes rushing dark and swift, eddying and whitening past some rock, or underneath the hither or the farther bank; and at these places B—- cast his line, and sometimes drew out a trout, small, not more than five or six inches long. The farther we went up the brook, the wilder it grew. The opposite bank was covered with pines and hemlocks, ascending high upwards, black and solemn. One knew that there must be almost a precipice behind, yet we could not see it. At the foot you could spy, a little way within the darksome shade, the roots and branches of the trees; but soon all sight was obstructed amidst the trunks. On the hither side, at first the bank was bare, then fringed with alder-bushes, bending and dipping into the stream, which, farther on, flowed through the midst of a forest of maple, beech, and other trees, its course growing wilder and wilder as we proceeded. For a considerable distance there was a causeway, built long ago of logs, to drag lumber upon; it was now decayed and rotten, a red decay, sometimes sunken down in the midst, here and there a knotty trunk stretching across, apparently sound. The sun being now low towards the west, a pleasant gloom and brightness were diffused through the forest, spots of brightness scattered upon the branches, or thrown down in gold upon the last year’s leaves among the trees. At last we came to where a dam had been built across the many years ago, and was now gone to ruin, so as to make the spot look more solitary and wilder than if man had never left vestiges of his toil there. It was a framework of logs, with a covering of plank sufficient to obstruct the onward flow of the brook; but it found its way past the side, and came foaming and struggling along among scattered rocks. Above the dam there was a broad and deep pool, one side of which was bordered by a precipitous wall of rocks, as smooth as if hewn out and squared, and piled one upon another, above which rose the forest. On the other side there was still a gently shelving bank, and the shore was covered with tall trees, among which I particularly remarked a stately pine, wholly devoid of bark, rising white in aged and majestic ruin, thrusting out its barkless arms. It must have stood there in death many years, its own ghost. Above the dam the brook flowed through the forest, a glistening and babbling water-path, illuminated by the sun, which sent its rays almost straight along its course. It was as lovely and wild and peaceful as it could possibly have been a hundred years ago; and the traces of labors of men long departed added a deeper peace to it. I bathed in the pool, and then pursued my way down beside the brook, growing dark with a pleasant gloom, as the sun sank and the water became more shadowy. B—- says that there was formerly a tradition that the Indians used to go up this brook, and return, after a brief absence, with large masses of lead, which they sold at the trading-stations in Augusta; whence there has always been an idea that there is a lead-mine hereabouts. Great toadstools were under the trees, and some small ones as yellow and almost the size of a half-broiled yolk of an egg. Strawberries were scattered along the brookside.

Dined at the hotel or Mansion House to-day. Men were playing checkers in the parlor. The Marshal of Maine, a corpulent, jolly fellow, famed for humor. A passenger left by the stage, hiring an express onward. A bottle of champagne was quaffed at the bar.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 8th, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

Doomed to contend with such a ferocious banditti of weeds | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 1st, 1843

Saturday, July 1st.–We had our first dish of green peas (a very small one) yesterday. Every day for the last week has been tremendously hot; and our garden flourishes like Eden itself, only Adam could hardly have been doomed to contend with such a ferocious banditti of weeds.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 1st, 1843. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

I have been observing a little Mediterranean boy from Malaga | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for May 30th, 1840

May 30th.–. . . On board my salt-vessels and colliers there are many things happening, many pictures which, in future years, when I am again busy at the loom of fiction, I could weave in; but my fancy is rendered so torpid by my ungenial way of life that I cannot sketch off the scenes and portraits that interest me, and I am forced to trust them to my memory, with the hope of recalling them at some more favorable period. For these three or four days I have been observing a little Mediterranean boy from Malaga, not more than ten or eleven years old, but who is already a citizen of the world, and seems to be just as gay and contented on the deck of a Yankee coal-vessel as he could be while playing beside his mother’s door. It is really touching to see how free and happy he is,–how the little fellow takes the whole wide world for his home, and all mankind for his family. He talks Spanish,–at least that is his native tongue; but he is also very intelligible in English, and perhaps he likewise has smatterings of the speech of other countries, whither the winds may have wafted this little sea-bird. He is a Catholic; and yesterday being Friday he caught some fish and fried them for his dinner in sweet-oil, and really they looked so delicate that I almost wished he would invite me to partake. Every once in a while he undresses himself and leaps over-board, plunging down beneath the waves as if the sea were as native to him as the earth. Then he runs up the rigging of the vessel as if he meant to fly away through the air. I must remember this little boy, and perhaps I may make something more beautiful of him than these rough and imperfect touches would promise.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for May 30th, 1840. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for May 16th, 1851

May 16th.–In our walks now, the children and I find blue, white, and golden violets, the former, especially, of great size and richness. Houstonias are abundant, blue-whitening some of the pastures. They are a very sociable little flower, and dwell close together in communities,–sometimes covering a space no larger than the palm of the hand, but keeping one another in cheerful heart and life,–sometimes they occupy a much larger space. Lobelia, a pink flower, growing in the woods. Columbines, of a pale red, because they have lacked sun, growing in rough and rocky places on banks in the copses, precipitating towards the lake. The leaves of the trees are not yet out, but are so apparent that the woods are getting a very decided shadow. Water-weeds on the edge of the lake, of a deep green, with roots that seem to have nothing to do with earth, but with water only.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for May 16th, 1851. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

Blog about making a sherry cobbler, a cocktail I read about in a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel

In the final third of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1852 novel The Blithedale Romance, the narrator, having departed the titular would-be utopian farm, enjoys some city time in a hotel. He takes a voyeuristic pleasure in watching people from his window, and elects to deepen the pleasure by ordering a drink: “Just about this time a waiter entered my room. The truth was, I had rung the bell and ordered a sherry-cobbler.” The explanatory end note for my Penguin Classics copy of Blithedale gives the following recipe: “A drink made with sherry, lemon juice, sugar, and cracked ice.” I decided to make a few.

A brief internet search resulted in dozens and dozens of recipes, all more or less the same iteration: long glass, crushed ice, sherry, simple syrup, citrus (oranges cited most frequently), fresh berries if you have ’em, and a straw. The straw is the kicker here. Here is a passage from Charles Dickens’ 1844 novel Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit that shows the titular hero’s delight with his first sherry cobbler (note Chuzzlewit’s ecstasy when he gets “the reed” to his lips):

‘I wish you would pull off my boots for me,’ said Martin, dropping into one of the chairs ‘I am quite knocked up—dead beat, Mark.’

‘You won’t say that to-morrow morning, sir,’ returned Mr Tapley; ‘nor even to-night, sir, when you’ve made a trial of this.’ With which he produced a very large tumbler, piled up to the brim with little blocks of clear transparent ice, through which one or two thin slices of lemon, and a golden liquid of delicious appearance, appealed from the still depths below, to the loving eye of the spectator.

‘What do you call this?’ said Martin.

But Mr Tapley made no answer; merely plunging a reed into the mixture—which caused a pleasant commotion among the pieces of ice—and signifying by an expressive gesture that it was to be pumped up through that agency by the enraptured drinker.

Martin took the glass with an astonished look; applied his lips to the reed; and cast up his eyes once in ecstasy. He paused no more until the goblet was drained to the last drop.

‘There, sir!’ said Mark, taking it from him with a triumphant face; ‘if ever you should happen to be dead beat again, when I ain’t in the way, all you’ve got to do is to ask the nearest man to go and fetch a cobbler.’

‘To go and fetch a cobbler?’ repeated Martin.

‘This wonderful invention, sir,’ said Mark, tenderly patting the empty glass, ‘is called a cobbler. Sherry cobbler when you name it long; cobbler, when you name it short. Now you’re equal to having your boots took off, and are, in every particular worth mentioning, another man.’

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yeah—so I looked around for recipes. David Wondrich’s 2007 cocktail history Imbibe! gives a helpful baseline recipe by citing Jerry Thomas’s 1862 classic, How to Mix Drinks. From Thomas’s book:

cobbler-1

Thomas doesn’t mention muddling the oranges, although pretty much every online recipe I read called for muddling.

So reader, I muddled.

Here is my variation on the sherry cobbler (or Sherry Cobbler, or sherry-cobbler). In the loose spirit of the cocktail, I made ours entirely of ingredients I already had at the house. These were for each cocktail:

–4 oz of sherry

–1/2 oz of simple syrup

–1/2 oz of maraschino syrup

–1 oz of sparkling water

–1 clementine (muddled)

–sprigs of mint

–blueberries

–crushed ice

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The maraschino syrup was an afterthought after I’d mixed the cocktail and was about to pour it over ice—I wanted to get a pop of color at the bottom of the glass. The mint and blueberries were from our garden. The pic above is lousy; sorry—not sure why I didn’t move the dishcloth and maybe photograph the cocktails like, uh, not in front of my wife’s kombucha hotels.

So how was it? Pretty refreshing. My wife enjoyed it more than I did, although I’m not a huge cocktail guy. (I think it’s pretty hard, for example, to improve upon neat scotch , although I do like bourbon straight up in the hotter months).

I’ve always been fascinated by literary recipes, so I’m a bit surprised the sherry cobbler has evaded my attention until now, despite its having shown up in various novels I’ve read (including Nicholson Baker’s House of Holesas Troy Patterson pointed out in a remarkably thorough literary history of the cocktail at Slate years ago). I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to make a sherry cobbler again (not that I went out of my way to make these ones), but the basic cobbler recipe’s spirit is very close to my approach to making cocktails at home anyway—use what you have. In fact, the major difference between the sherry cobblers I made yesterday and the kind of cocktail I’d normally cobble together for my wife on a Saturday afternoon is the sherry—I’d usually use rum or maybe vodka. Anyway, the whole thing was fun, which is like, the point of cocktails.

Blog about the American Arcadia (or Arcadian America?) scene in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance

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I am glad I reread Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1852 novel for many reasons. One of those reasons is because I had completely forgotten to remember a marvelous scene near the end of the novel, in Ch. XXV — “The Masqueraders.” This episode happens near the end of the chapter. Hawthorne’s stand-in Miles Coverdale has decided to return to Blithedale after spending some time out in, like, the world.

Coverdale’s return to the utopian project he half-heartedly abandoned is thoroughly coded in Hawthorne’s signature ambivalence: He notes “a sickness of the spirits kept alternating with my flights of causeless buoyancy” as he walks through the wood. Approaching the Blithedale farm, and feels an “invincible reluctance” in his return, which causes him to linger in the forest. By and by, as the lovely transitional phrase goes, Coverdale winds his way back to his “hermitage, in the heart of the white-pine tree.” (The white-pine reference strikes me as an oblique reference here to Hawthorne himself—or rather, a nod to a distinction between white pine and black hawthorn trees, alter egos).

Here in his hermitage he rests among grapes dangling in “abundant clusters of the deepest purple, deliciously sweet to the taste.” Coverdale’s hermitage is an idealized, natural—transcendental—version of Blithedale, the grapevines (a prefiguration of communication in the American parlance) a kind of perfectly polygamous knot of communal existence.

Taken up in solo-bacchanalia, Coverdale begins devouring the grapes. Always the loner, always the voyeur, he checks out the house from his arboreal perch and notes its emptiness. He decides, drunken on sweet grapes, to skulk through the woods, where he hears “Voices, male and feminine; laughter, not only of fresh young throats, but the bass of grown people.” He continues—

The wood, in this portion of it, seemed as full of jollity as if Comus and his crew were holding their revels in one of its usually lonesome glades. Stealing onward as far as I durst, without hazard of discovery, I saw a concourse of strange figures beneath the overshadowing branches. They appeared, and vanished, and came again, confusedly with the streaks of sunlight glimmering down upon them.

“Comus and his crew” — what a lovely evocation! Comus, cup-bearer and heir of Bacchus, is a figuration of erotic chaos. Hawthorne ushers his hero into a scene of pastoral American anarchy, a strange Arcadia that Walt Whitman would try to replicate in Leaves of Grass a few years later. Note the admixture of cultures here in Hawthorne’s transcendentalist Halloween:

Among them was an Indian chief, with blanket, feathers, and war-paint, and uplifted tomahawk; and near him, looking fit to be his woodland bride, the goddess Diana, with the crescent on her head, and attended by our big lazy dog, in lack of any fleeter hound. Drawing an arrow from her quiver, she let it fly at a venture, and hit the very tree behind which I happened to be lurking. Another group consisted of a Bavarian broom-girl, a negro of the Jim Crow order, one or two foresters of the Middle Ages, a Kentucky woodsman in his trimmed hunting-shirt and deerskin leggings, and a Shaker elder, quaint, demure, broad-brimmed, and square-skirted. Shepherds of Arcadia, and allegoric figures from the “Faerie Queen,” were oddly mixed up with these. Arm in arm, or otherwise huddled together in strange discrepancy, stood grim Puritans, gay Cavaliers, and Revolutionary officers with three-cornered cocked hats, and queues longer than their swords. A bright-complexioned, dark-haired, vivacious little gypsy, with a red shawl over her head, went from one group to another, telling fortunes by palmistry; and Moll Pitcher, the renowned old witch of Lynn, broomstick in hand, showed herself prominently in the midst, as if announcing all these apparitions to be the offspring of her necromantic art.

Again though, in classic Hawthorne fashion, our author hedges all bets, tempering his mythical romantic flight in skepticism, here embodied by Silas Foster, the only real farmer (real earthworker) of Blithedale:

But Silas Foster, who leaned against a tree near by, in his customary blue frock and smoking a short pipe, did more to disenchant the scene, with his look of shrewd, acrid, Yankee observation, than twenty witches and necromancers could have done in the way of rendering it weird and fantastic.

Our narrator Coverdale also spies some men “with portentously red noses…spreading a banquet on the leaf-strewn earth; while a horned and long-tailed gentleman” tuning up a fiddle. The end result:

So they joined hands in a circle, whirling round so swiftly, so madly, and so merrily, in time and tune with the Satanic music, that their separate incongruities were blended all together, and they became a kind of entanglement that went nigh to turn one’s brain with merely looking at it.

The entanglement here—which eventually explodes in riotous communal laughter—recalls the polygamous knot of grapevines that shrouded Coverdale’s hermitage.

The great laughter prompts Coverdale to explode in his own laughter, whereupon the Bacchic party sets out after him with comic-murderous intent:

“Some profane intruder!” said the goddess Diana. “I shall send an arrow through his heart, or change him into a stag, as I did Actaeon, if he peeps from behind the trees!”

Coverdale flees.

He eventually happens upon an old rotting woodpile covered in moss, where he daydreams about “the long-dead woodman, and his long-dead wife and children, coming out of their chill graves, and essaying to make a fire with this heap of mossy fuel!” — this before finally giving himself up to the Blithedale crew.

The episode strikes me very much as a sequel or reboot of Hawthorne’s 1835 story “Young Goodman Brown,” in which a Puritan naif wonders into the woods dark and deep and witnesses all the horrors of his young country made real—he sees the dark heart of his community beating naked and bloody and raw and Satanic—and it changes him forever, essentially dulling his soul unto a living death. The American Arcadia episode of Blithedale though is a bit richer in its mythos, its paganism more complex and inclusive, its perspective character more attuned to the vibrant possibilities of a transcendental community, even as he stands on its outside—and what is an outsider but the most vital secret ingredient of any community?

Blog about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for April 14th, 1841 (including a recipe for buckwheat cakes)

For years now, I’ve been reading, rereading, and sharing on this website excerpts from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journals. I like to post selections that share dates. For example, yesterday, April 13th, I posted Hawthorne’s notebook entry from April 13th, 1841. This particular post, which records Hawthorne’s arrival at Brook Farm, was especially felicitous, as I’m currently reading Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance, which is loosely based on the author’s time at Brook Farm.

In the novel’s second chapter, the Hawthorne-figure (Coverdale) arrives at Blithedale on “an April day, as already hinted, and well towards the middle of the month.” He complains that though the morning could be described as “balmy,” by noon it was snowing. Hawthorne’s corresponding journal entry (composed over a decade before he published Blithedale) perhaps-mockingly refers to Brook Farm as a “polar Paradise”; some of this language finds its way into the protagonist’s description of Blithdale: “Paradise, indeed! Nobody else in the world, I am bold to affirm—nobody, at least, in our bleak little world of New England,—had dreamed of Paradise that day except as the pole suggests the tropic.”

There are twenty-four chapters to Blithedale, and Hawthorne devotes the first five to that first day (presumably April 13th, 1841). The novel’s sixth chapter, “Coverdale’s Sick Chamber,” begins the next morning with our narrator too sick to attend to his first day of farm work. However, Hawthorne’s journal makes clear that the real-life Hawthorne did not fall ill until a few weeks later, around April 28th, and that he recovered around May 4th (“My cold no longer troubles me, and all the morning I have been at work under the clear, blue sky, on a hill-side”).

(I know my audience—you come to this site to read about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s head colds, right?).

Unlike his stand-in Coverdale, Hawthorne went to work at Brook Farm almost immediately. He recounts his first morning’s work in his journal entry for April 14, which I have annotated via footnotes:

April 14th, 10 A.M.–. . . I did not milk the cows last night, 1 because Mr. Ripley 2 was afraid to trust them to my hands, or me to their horns 3, I know not which. But this morning I have done wonders. 4 Before breakfast, I went out to the barn and began to chop hay for the cattle, and with such “righteous vehemence,” as Mr. Ripley says, did I labor, that in the space of ten minutes I broke the machine. 5 Then I brought wood and replenished the fires; and finally went down to breakfast, and ate up a huge mound of buckwheat cakes. 6 After breakfast, Mr. Ripley put a four-pronged instrument into my hands, which he gave me to understand was called a pitchfork 7; and he and Mr. Farley being armed with similar weapons, we all three commenced a gallant attack upon a heap of manure. This office being concluded 8, and I having purified myself, I sit down to finish this letter. . . .

Miss Fuller’s cow hooks the other cows, and has made herself ruler of the herd, and behaves in a very tyrannical manner. . . . I shall make an excellent husbandman,–I feel the original Adam 10 reviving within me.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for April 14th, 1841. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

1 Coverdale’s first night at Blithedale ends with Slias Foster (the only real farmer there) telling everyone to go to sleep early as they have “nine cows to milk, and a dozen other things to do, before breakfast.”

2 George Ripley, a Unitarian minister and charter member of the Transcendentalist Club, founded Brook Farm in 1840. Following Charles Fourier’s brand of communal socialism,  Brook Farm was intended to put transcendentalist idealism into concrete action. Ripley has no clear corollary in Blithedale as far as I can tell.

Never fear—Hawthorne reports in his journal a few days later (April 16th): “I have milked a cow!!!” What charming enthusiasm! Not two !! but three exclamation marks!!! Hawthorne only deploys a triple exclamation one other time in the journals collected as The American-Notebooks: On May 31st, 1844, he joyously notes, “P.S. 3 o’clock.–The beef is done!!!” Dude got excited for bovines.

I genuinely love Hawthorne’s ironic humor, which I think is often overlooked by some readers.

Good job breaking the farm equipment there, city boy! The reference to “machine” here is vague; you can read more about 19th-century feed-cutters (and see some images of them) here.

A contemporaryish recipe for buckwheat cakes from S. S. Schoff and ‎B. S. Caswell’s 1867 cookbook The People’s Own Book of Recipes and Information for the Million: Containing Directions for the Preservation of Health, for the Treatment of the Sick and the Conduct of the Sick-room : with a Full Discussion of the More Prominent Diseases that Afflict the Human Family, with Full Directions for Their Rational Treatment : Also, 1000 Practical and Useful Recipes, Embracing Every Department of Domestic Economy and Human Industry : with Copious Notes and Emendations, Explanatory and Suggestive:

buckwheat cakes

7 If you haven’t caught on, Hawthorne (and the rest of these fops too) is going to be a terrible farmer.

Hawthorne’s phrase “a gallant attack upon a heap of manure” is a wonderfully poetic turn, but his referring to finishing his shit-shoveling as “this office being concluded” straight up kills me.

Margaret Fuller was the author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, one of American feminism’s earliest works. She was also the first editor of The Dial, (first a transcendentalist journal, and later a vehicle for modernist literature). Fuller spent time at Brook Farm, although she was never a full member. Many critics and historians suggest that Fuller is in part the inspiration for Zenobia, the soul of Hawthorne’s Blithedale.

10 The biblical Adam was of course the first gardener. Hawthorne’s romantic turn of phrase points to the idealism of Brook Farm’s utopian experiment—but also underscores the eventual fall.

The unregenerated man shivers within me | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for April 13th, 1841

Brook Farm, Oak Hill, April 13th, 1841.–. . . Here I am in a polar Paradise! I know not how to interpret this aspect of nature,–whether it be of good or evil omen to our enterprise. But I reflect that the Plymouth pilgrims arrived in the midst of storm, and stepped ashore upon mountain snow-drifts; and, nevertheless, they prospered, and became a great people,–and doubtless it will be the same with us. I laud my stars, however, that you will not have your first impressions of (perhaps) our future home from such a day as this, . . . Through faith, I persist in believing that Spring and Summer will come in their due season; but the unregenerated man shivers within me, and suggests a doubt whether I may not have wandered within the precincts of the Arctic Circle, and chosen my heritage among everlasting snows, . . . Provide yourself with a good stock of furs, and, if you can obtain the skin of a polar bear, you will find it a very suitable summer dress for this region. . . .

I have not yet taken my first lesson in agriculture, except that I went to see our cows foddered, yesterday afternoon. We have eight of our own; and the number is now increased by a transcendental heifer belonging to Miss Margaret Fuller. She is very fractious, I believe, and apt to kick over the milk-pail. . . . I intend to convert myself into a milkmaid this evening, but I pray Heaven that Mr. Ripley may be moved to assign me the kindliest cow in the herd, otherwise I shall perform my duty with fear and trembling.

I like my brethren in affliction very well; and, could you see us sitting round our table at meal-times, before the great kitchen fire, you would call it a cheerful sight. Mrs. B—- is a most comfortable woman to behold. She looks as if her ample person were stuffed full of tenderness,–indeed, as if she were all one great, kind heart.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for April 13th, 1841. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

The entry is the first of Hawthorne’s journals to mention Brook Farm, a utopian enterprise that forms the basis of Hawthorne’s 1852 novel The Blithedale Romance (which I am currently re-reading).

Blog about “The Silvery Veil” allegory in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (and David Foster Wallace’s Madame Psychosis)

This afternoon I got to Ch. XIII of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance. Titled “Zenobia’s Legend,” most of the chapter is given over to the titular heroine’s tale “The Silvery Veil,” a wonderfully pre-postmodern moment in Hawthorne’s novel.

Let’s look lookingly at the layers: The Blithdale Romance is Hawthorne’s ironic-but-sincere dark-romantic semi-autobiographical account of his time at Brook Farm, a failed utopian community of Transcendentalists who maybe didn’t quite, uh, transcend. Zenobia is based partially on the great American feminist Margaret Fuller (who also did time on Brook Farm).  Taking center stage here in (the aptly-numbered) thirteenth chapter of Blithedale, Zenobia extemporizes a story about The Veiled Lady. This Veiled Lady is a local celebrity, a clairvoyant of some renown who (we learn in the opening chapter of the novel) has recently disappeared. Zenobia’s yarn is a leisure-time amusement, one she contends that she’ll spin to get out of an apparent rut:

“I am getting weary of this,” said she, after a moment’s thought. “Our own features, and our own figures and airs, show a little too intrusively through all the characters we assume. We have so much familiarity with one another’s realities, that we cannot remove ourselves, at pleasure, into an imaginary sphere. Let us have no more pictures to-night; but, to make you what poor amends I can, how would you like to have me trump up a wild, spectral legend, on the spur of the moment?”

Ironically however, Zenobia clearly relies on her “own features” as well as the features of Blithedale’s spectral ingenue Priscilla to inform her performance. Despite her declaration to “remove” herself and her auditors “into an imaginary sphere,” Zenobia essentially recasts poor Priscilla’s waifery into a supernatural ultraromantic mode. The story’s basic conceit is thus: There is a famous veiled lady who may be extraordinarily beautiful or who may be extraordinarily ugly. No one knows what she looks like because like the the veil obviously hides her face, preventing any viewer’s agency to interpret for himself.

Zenobia’s legend is a tale within a tale within a tale—a performance that each member of the small Blithedale community will recode into their own readings. However, Zenobia guides her audience toward a certain conclusion, all but declaring that meek Priscilla is in fact the Veiled Lady—hell, Zenobia even throws a bit of gauze she’d been vamping with over the poor dear’s head at the climax of her tale.

“The Silvery Veil,” in another pre-postmodern layer, is a thin but clear echo of Hawthorne’s famous allegory “The Minister’s Black Veil,” which was published 15 years before The Blithedale Romance, and would clearly have been known to Hawthorne’s intended audience of Transcendentalites. (There’s perhaps a more clear connection between “The Silvery Veil” and “The Minister’s Black Veil” : Hawthorne likely based the titular minister on the real-life preacher Joseph Moody, who wore a handkerchief over his faceBlithedale features a character named “Old Moodie” who we eventually learn is Pricilla’s secret father).

So Hawthorne overloads the allegory with meaning and misdirection—is Zenobia’s legend “The Silvery Veil” the secret key to Priscilla’s identity? A clue to Blithedale’s destiny? A watery paraphrase of Hawthorne’s own stronger story, “The Minister’s Black Veil”? Simply a Saturday night’s entertainment?

The trick of the tale I think rests in the undecidability of what’s under the veil, in the not knowing, which is neatly summed up in a paragraph:

Some upheld that the veil covered the most beautiful countenance in the world; others,—and certainly with more reason, considering the sex of the Veiled Lady,—that the face was the most hideous and horrible, and that this was her sole motive for hiding it. It was the face of a corpse; it was the head of a skeleton; it was a monstrous visage, with snaky locks, like Medusa’s, and one great red eye in the centre of the forehead. Again, it was affirmed that there was no single and unchangeable set of features beneath the veil; but that whosoever should be bold enough to lift it would behold the features of that person, in all the world, who was destined to be his fate; perhaps he would be greeted by the tender smile of the woman whom he loved, or, quite as probably, the deadly scowl of his bitterest enemy would throw a blight over his life.

Hawthorne’s description here immediately reminded me of Joelle van Dyne aka Madame Psychosis aka the P.G.O.A.T., a character in David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest who wears a veil either because she’s too beautiful to behold and/or because she bears a physical deformity to abject to bear. I can’t actually remember if it’s the “and” or the “or” in that previous sentence that’s correct, even though I’ve read IJ a few times (and even not that long ago). Which is like, maybe the point of this literary veiling—what I mean is that we read faces, we read expressions, and the veil covers over what we would read directly, giving us a blank space to interpret through the lens of our wild (or not so wild) imaginations. Hawthorne’s veils (and maybe Wallace’s veils) require an inward reading, asking us to interpret a signifier that does not bear a clear signified—a most puzzling sign.

Blog about “a perfectly inextricable knot of polygamy” (in Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance)

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I hit Chapter XII of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance this afternoon and was delighted by some lines from its first paragraph, wherein Our Narrator Coverdale retreats to a little fort he’s made in the woods:

Long since, in this part of our circumjacent wood, I had found out for myself a little hermitage. It was a kind of leafy cave, high upward into the air, among the midmost branches of a white-pine tree. A wild grapevine, of unusual size and luxuriance, had twined and twisted itself up into the tree, and, after wreathing the entanglement of its tendrils around almost every bough, had caught hold of three or four neighboring trees, and married the whole clump with a perfectly inextricable knot of polygamy.

I was deeply disappointed that the version of myself who had read this same physical copy of The Blithedale Romance almost 15 years earlier had failed to muster a single annotation on the passage (despite having left like 10,000 other scratches and loops on the yellow pages).

Hawthorne’s naturalism is fantastically naturalistically fantastical. The wild grapevine he conjures here that “married the whole clump with a perfectly inextricable knot of polygamy” is simultaneously a physical entity “wreathing” itself around the surrounding trees and at the same time a metonymy for the Bacchic spirit that pulls the souls of Blithedale into a weird marriage, an “inextricable knot of polygamy.” Hawthorne’s image points to exuberant and wild joy on one hand, but also to the thick bonds that tightly tie desire down in any moral system. The grapevine image serves as shorthand for the entire novel, underlining the push-pull tension of the narrator’s (and author’s!) conflict between Puritanism and Transcendentalism. The “inextricable knot of polygamy” is wonderfully pure in its impurity, in its radical transcendence.

Blog about starting Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance

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I started a reread of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1852 novel The Blithedale Romance this afternoon, prompted by Iris Murdoch’s novel The Bell and its utopian commune setting. I don’t think I’ve read Blithedale in a dozen or so years; the copy I’m reading is from grad school. The margins brim with every sort of nonsense, every damn adjective circled, etc.

My son, seven, picked up the novel and remarked that he didn’t know that I read romances. I tried to explain Romance here; failed. Then my daughter read the blurb. I asked her what she thought and she said the she liked the betrayal part but wasn’t sure about the rest. I flipped it over and read the blurb, which I’m not sure I’d read before. The blurb is all about sex, which seems about right.

The Blithedale Romance is Hawthorne’s horniest novel. Here is a passage from just three chapters in, where protagonist Miles Coverdale conjures some delight in imagining his lively host Zenobia au naturale (right after damning domestic work altogether)—

“What a pity,” I remarked, “that the kitchen, and the housework generally, cannot be left out of our system altogether! It is odd enough that the kind of labor which falls to the lot of women is just that which chiefly distinguishes artificial life—the life of degenerated mortals—from the life of Paradise. Eve had no dinner-pot, and no clothes to mend, and no washing-day.”

“I am afraid,” said Zenobia, with mirth gleaming out of her eyes, “we shall find some difficulty in adopting the paradisiacal system for at least a month to come. Look at that snowdrift sweeping past the window! Are there any figs ripe, do you think? Have the pineapples been gathered to-day? Would you like a bread-fruit, or a cocoanut? Shall I run out and pluck you some roses? No, no, Mr. Coverdale; the only flower hereabouts is the one in my hair, which I got out of a greenhouse this morning. As for the garb of Eden,” added she, shivering playfully, “I shall not assume it till after May-day!”

Assuredly Zenobia could not have intended it,—the fault must have been entirely in my imagination. But these last words, together with something in her manner, irresistibly brought up a picture of that fine, perfectly developed figure, in Eve’s earliest garment. I almost fancied myself actually beholding it!

Ah Hawthorne! The “fault must have been entirely in my imagination,” Miles muses. That last line — “I almost fancied myself actually beholding it!” — doesn’t appear in the Gutenberg version of The Blithedale Romance I linked to above (and here too, I guess). The editors of my Penguin Classics edition note that the line was probably deleted from the original manuscript “due to Sophia Hawthorne’s prudishness.” But the line—and really, here, I mean that that adverb almost—tells us so much about our unreliable narrator, Miles Coverdale. To almost fancy beholding an imaginative vision is to have absolutely imaginatively beheld the vision, and then applied a second consciousness to the whole affair—a witness to the sinful vision, a witness who reports to one’s own awkward soul.

Coverdale is the Hawthorne-figure, or rather an ironized version of Hawthorne, who recalls his memories of his time on real-life Brook Farm, an experimental utopian community founded by Unitarian preacher George Ripley and his wife Sophia in the mid-1850s. Hawthorne brings his pessimistic bent to the whole business (failed business), but shows us this perspective though Coverdale’s Romantic, even nostalgic optimism—an optimism clouded by experience:

The better life! Possibly, it would hardly look so now; it is enough if it looked so then. The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one’s self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed.

Yet, after all, let us acknowledge it wiser, if not more sagacious, to follow out one’s daydream to its natural consummation, although, if the vision have been worth the having, it is certain never to be consummated otherwise than by a failure. And what of that?

So the sex of sexy Blithedale, even in its first chapters, is to be “consummated…by a failure.” But if I recall, there’s a lot of blithely lively fun in getting to that failure, and I’m enjoying Hawthorne’s often-ironic but always deeply-felt sentences, sentences that dwell on the ways in which we imagine and then try to create (and perhaps fail to create) the better life.

Like trying to read a hundred poems at once | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for March 24th, 1856

We first went into Wolsey’s great Hall, up a most spacious staircase, the walls and ceiling of which were covered with an allegorical fresco by Verrio, wonderfully bright and well preserved; and without caring about the design or execution, I greatly liked the brilliancy of the colors. The great Hall is a most noble and beautiful room, above a hundred feet long and sixty high and broad. Most of the windows are of stained or painted glass, with elaborate designs, whether modern or ancient I know not, but certainly brilliant in effect. The walls, from the floor to perhaps half their height, are covered with antique tapestry, which, though a good deal faded, still retains color enough to be a very effective adornment, and to give an idea of how rich a mode of decking a noble apartment this must have been. The subjects represented were from Scripture, and the figures seemed colossal. On looking closely at this tapestry, you could see that it was thickly interwoven with threads of gold, still glistening. The windows, except one or two that are long, do not descend below the top of this tapestry, and are therefore twenty or thirty feet above the floor; and this manner of lighting a great room seems to add much to the impressiveness of the enclosed space. The roof is very magnificent, of carved oak, intricately and elaborately arched, and still as perfect to all appearance as when it was first made. There are banners, so fresh in their hues, and so untattered, that I think they must be modern, suspended along beneath the cornice of the hall, and exhibiting Wolsey’s arms and badges. On the whole, this is a perfect sight in its way.

Next to the hall there is a withdrawing-room, more than seventy feet long, and twenty-five feet high. The walls of this apartment, too, are covered with ancient tapestry, of allegorical design, but more faded than that of the hall. There is also a stained-glass window; and a marble statue of Venus on a couch, very lean and not very beautiful; and some cartoons of Carlo Cignani, which have left no impression on my memory; likewise, a large model of a splendid palace of some East Indian nabob.

I am not sure, after all, that Verrio’s frescoed grand staircase was not in another part of the palace; for I remember that we went from it through an immensely long suite of apartments, beginning with the Guard-chamber. All these rooms are wainscoted with oak, which looks new, being, I believe, of the date of King William’s reign. Over many of the doorways, or around the panels, there are carvings in wood by Gibbons, representing wreaths of flowers, fruit, and foliage, the most perfectly beautiful that can be conceived; and the wood being of a light hue (lime-wood, I believe), it has a fine effect on the dark oak panelling. The apartments open one beyond another, in long, long, long succession,–rooms of state, and kings’ and queens’ bedchambers, and royal closets bigger than ordinary drawing-rooms, so that the whole suite must be half a mile, or it may be a mile, in extent. From the windows you get views of the palace-grounds, broad and stately walks, and groves of trees, and lawns, and fountains, and the Thames and adjacent country beyond. The walls of all these rooms are absolutely covered with pictures, including works of all the great masters, which would require long study before a new eye could enjoy them; and, seeing so many of them at once, and having such a nothing of time to look at them all, I did not even try to see any merit in them. Vandyke’s picture of Charles I., on a white horse beneath an arched gateway, made more impression on me than any other, and as I recall it now, it seems as if I could see the king’s noble, melancholy face, and armed form, remembered not in picture, but in reality. All Sir Peter Lely’s lewd women, and Kneller’s too, were in these rooms; and the jolly old stupidity of George III. and his family, many times repeated; and pictures by Titian, Rubens, and other famous hands, intermixed with many by West, which provokingly drew the eye away from their betters. It seems to me that a picture, of all other things, should be by itself; whereas people always congregate them in galleries. To endeavor really to see them, so arranged, is like trying to read a hundred poems at once,–a most absurd attempt. Of all these pictures, I hardly recollect any so well as a ridiculous old travesty of the Resurrection and Last Judgment, where the dead people are represented as coming to life at the sound of the trumpet,–the flesh reëstablishing itself on the bones,–one man picking up his skull, and putting it on his shoulders,–and all appearing greatly startled, only half awake, and at a loss what to do next. Some devils are dragging away the damned by the heels and on sledges, and above sits the Redeemer and some angelic and sainted people, looking complacently down upon the scene!

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for March 24th, 1856. From Passages from the English Note-Books.

The boldface emphasis on the sentences in the last paragraph is mine.