February, 18th.–A walk, yesterday afternoon, with the children; a bright, and rather cold day, breezy from the north and westward. There has been a good deal of soaking rain lately, and it has, in great measure, cleared hills and plains of snow, only it may be seen lying in spots, and on each side of stone-walls, in a pretty broad streak. The grass is brown and withered, and yet, scattered all amongst it, on close inspection, one finds a greenness;–little shrubs that have kept green under all the severity of winter, and seem to need no change to fit them for midsummer. In the woods we see stones covered with moss that retains likewise a most lively green. Where the trees are dense, the snow still lies under them. On the sides of the mountains, some miles off, the black pines and the white snow among them together produce a gray effect. The little streams are most interesting objects at this time; some that have an existence only at this season,–Mississippis of the moment,–yet glide and tumble along as if they were perennial. The familiar ones seem strange by their breadth and volume; their little waterfalls set off by glaciers on a small scale. The sun has by this time force enough to make sheltered nooks in the angles of woods, or on banks, warm and comfortable. The lake is still of adamantine substance, but all round the borders there is a watery margin, altogether strewed or covered with thin and broken ice, so that I could not venture on it with the children. A chickadee was calling in the woods yesterday,–the only small bird I have taken note of yet; but crows have been cawing in the woods for a week past, though not in very great numbers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 9 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.
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.
3 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.
4 I genuinely love Hawthorne’s ironic humor, which I think is often overlooked by some readers.
5 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.
6 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:
7 If you haven’t caught on, Hawthorne (and the rest of these fops too) is going to be a terrible farmer.
8 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.
9 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.
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.
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).
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!
The boldface emphasis on the sentences in the last paragraph is mine.
March 7th.–J—– and I walked to Tranmere, and passed an old house which I suppose to be Tranmere Hall. Our way to it was up a hollow lane, with a bank and hedge on each side, and with a few thatched stone cottages, centuries old, their ridge-poles crooked and the stones time-worn, scattered along. At one point there was a wide, deep well, hewn out of the solid red freestone, and with steps, also hewn in solid rock, leading down to it. These steps were much hollowed by the feet of those who had come to the well; and they reach beneath the water, which is very high. The well probably supplied water to the old cotters and retainers of Tranmere Hall five hundred years ago. The Hall stands on the verge of a long hill which stretches behind Tranmere and as far as Birkenhead.
It is an old gray stone edifice, with a good many gables, and windows with mullions, and some of them extending the whole breadth of the gable. In some parts of the house, the windows seem to have been built up; probably in the days when daylight was taxed. The form of the Hall is multiplex, the roofs sloping down and intersecting one another, so as to make the general result indescribable. There were two sundials on different sides of the house, both the dial-plates of which were of stone; and on one the figures, so far as I could see, were quite worn off, but the gnomon still cast a shadow over it in such a way that I could judge that it was about noon. The other dial had some half-worn hour-marks, but no gnomon. The chinks of the stones of the house were very weedy, and the building looked quaint and venerable; but it is now converted into a farm-house, with the farm-yard and outbuildings closely appended. A village, too, has grown up about it, so that it seems out of place among modern stuccoed dwellings, such as are erected for tradesmen and other moderate people who have their residences in the neighborhood of a great city. Among these there are a few thatched cottages, the homeliest domiciles that ever mortals lived in, belonging to the old estate. Directly across the street is a Wayside Inn, “licensed to sell wine, spirits, ale, and tobacco.” The street itself has been laid out since the land grew valuable by the increase of Liverpool and Birkenhead; for the old Hall would never have been built on the verge of a public way.
February 7th, 1840.–What beautiful weather this is!–beautiful, at least, so far as sun, sky, and atmosphere are concerned, though a poor, wingless biped is sometimes constrained to wish that he could raise himself a little above the earth. How much mud and mire, how many pools of unclean water, how many slippery footsteps, and perchance heavy tumbles, might be avoided, if we could tread but six inches above the crust of this world. Physically we cannot do this; our bodies cannot; but it seems to me that our hearts and minds may keep themselves above moral mud-puddles and other discomforts of the soul’s pathway.
October 25th.–A walk yesterday through Dark Lane, and home through the village of Danvers. Landscape now wholly autumnal. Saw an elderly man laden with two dry, yellow, rustling bundles of Indian corn-stalks,–a good personification of Autumn. Another man hoeing up potatoes. Rows of white cabbages lay ripening. Fields of dry Indian corn. The grass has still considerable greenness. Wild rose-bushes devoid of leaves, with their deep, bright red seed-vessels. Meeting-house in Danvers seen at a distance, with the sun shining through the windows of its belfry. Barberry-bushes,–the leaves now of a brown red, still juicy and healthy; very few berries remaining, mostly frost-bitten and wilted. All among the yet green grass, dry stalks of weeds. The down of thistles occasionally seen flying through the sunny air.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for October 25th, 1836. Collected in Passages from the American Note-Books.
Friday, October 6th.–Yesterday afternoon I took a solitary walk to Walden Pond. It was a cool, windy day, with heavy clouds rolling and tumbling about the sky, but still a prevalence of genial autumn sunshine. The fields are still green, and the great masses of the woods have not yet assumed their many-colored garments; but here and there are solitary oaks of deep, substantial red, or maples of a more brilliant hue, or chestnuts either yellow or of a tenderer green than in summer. Some trees seem to return to their hue of May or early June before they put on the brighter autumnal tints. In some places, along the borders of low and moist land, a whole range of trees were clothed in the perfect gorgeousness of autumn, of all shades of brilliant color, looking like the palette on which Nature was arranging the tints wherewith to paint a picture. These hues appeared to be thrown together without design; and yet there was perfect harmony among them, and a softness and a delicacy made up of a thousand different brightnesses. There is not, I think, so much contrast among these colors as might at first appear. The more you consider them, the more they seem to have one element among them all, which is the reason that the most brilliant display of them soothes the observer, instead of exciting him. And I know not whether it be more a moral effect or a physical one, operating merely on the eye; but it is a pensive gayety, which causes a sigh often, and never a smile. We never fancy, for instance, that these gayly clad trees might be changed into young damsels in holiday attire, and betake themselves to dancing on the plain. If they were to undergo such a transformation, they would surely arrange themselves in funeral procession, and go sadly along, with their purple and scarlet and golden garments trailing over the withering grass. When the sunshine falls upon them, they seem to smile; but it is as if they were heartbroken. But it is in vain for me to attempt to describe these autumnal brilliancies, or to convey the impression which they make on me. I have tried a thousand times, and always without the slightest self-satisfaction. Fortunately there is no need of such a record, for Nature renews the picture year after year; and even when we shall have passed away from the world, we can spiritually create these scenes, so that we may dispense with all efforts to put them into words.
Walden Pond was clear and beautiful as usual. It tempted me to bathe; and, though the water was thrillingly cold, it was like the thrill of a happy death. Never was there such transparent water as this. I threw sticks into it, and saw them float suspended on an almost invisible medium. It seemed as if the pure air were beneath them, as well as above. It is fit for baptisms; but one would not wish it to be polluted by having sins washed into it. None but angels should bathe in it; but blessed babies might be dipped into its bosom.
In a small and secluded dell that opens upon the most beautiful cove of the whole lake, there is a little hamlet of huts or shanties inhabited by the Irish people who are at work upon the railroad. There are three or four of these habitations, the very rudest, I should imagine, that civilized men ever made for themselves,–constructed of rough boards, with the protruding ends. Against some of them the earth is heaped up to the roof, or nearly so; and when the grass has had time to sprout upon them, they will look like small natural hillocks, or a species of ant-hills,–something in which Nature has a larger share than man. These huts are placed beneath the trees, oaks, walnuts, and white-pines, wherever the trunks give them space to stand; and by thus adapting themselves to natural interstices, instead of making new ones, they do not break or disturb the solitude and seclusion of the place. Voices are heard, and the shouts and laughter of children, who play about like the sunbeams that come down through the branches. Women are washing in open spaces, and long lines of whitened clothes are extended from tree to tree, fluttering and gambolling in the breeze. A pig, in a sty even more extemporary than the shanties, is grunting and poking his snout through the clefts of his habitation. The household pots and kettles are seen at the doors; and a glance within shows the rough benches that serve for chairs, and the bed upon the floor. The visitor’s nose takes note of the fragrance of a pipe. And yet, with all these homely items, the repose and sanctity of the old wood do not seem to be destroyed or profaned. It overshadows these poor people, and assimilates them somehow or other to the character of its natural inhabitants. Their presence did not shock me any more than if I had merely discovered a squirrel’s nest in a tree. To be sure, it is a torment to see the great, high, ugly embankment of the railroad, which is here thrusting itself into the lake, or along its margin, in close vicinity to this picturesque little hamlet. I have seldom seen anything more beautiful than the cove on the border of which the huts are situated; and the more I looked, the lovelier it grew. The trees overshadowed it deeply; but on one side there was some brilliant shrubbery which seemed to light up the whole picture with the effect of a sweet and melancholy smile. I felt as if spirits were there,–or as if these shrubs had a spiritual life. In short, the impression was indefinable; and, after gazing and musing a good while, I retraced my steps through the Irish hamlet, and plodded on along a wood-path.
According to my invariable custom, I mistook my way, and, emerging upon the road, I turned my back instead of my face towards Concord, and walked on very diligently till a guide-board informed me of my mistake. I then turned about, and was shortly overtaken by an old yeoman in a chaise, who kindly offered me a drive, and soon set me down in the village.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for Friday, October 6th, 1843. Collected in Passages from the American Note-Books.
September 13th.–I spent last evening, as well as part of the evening before, at Mr. Thaxter’s. It is certainly a romantic incident to find such a young man on this lonely island; his marriage with the pretty Miranda is true romance. In our talk we have glanced over many matters, and, among the rest, that of the stage, to prepare himself for which was his first motive in coming hither. He appears quite to have given up any dreams of that kind now. What he will do on returning to the world, as his purpose is, I cannot imagine; but, no doubt, though all their remaining life, both he and she will look back to this rocky ledge, with its handful of soil, as to a Paradise.
Last evening we (Mr., Mrs., and Miss Thaxter) sat and talked of ghosts and kindred subjects; and they told me of the appearance of a little old woman in a striped gown, that had come into that house a few months ago. She was seen by nobody but an Irish nurse, who spoke to her, but received no answer. The little woman drew her chair up towards the fire, and stretched out her feet to warm them. By and by the nurse, who suspected nothing of her ghostly character, went to get a pail of water; and, when she came back, the little woman was not there. It being known precisely how many and what people were on the island, and that no such little woman was among them, the fact of her being a ghost is incontestable. I taught them how to discover the hidden sentiments of letters by suspending a gold ring over them. Ordinarily, since I have been here, we have spent the evening under the piazza, where Mr. Laighton sits to take the air. He seems to avoid the within-doors whenever he can. So there he sits in the sea-breezes, when inland people are probably drawing their chairs to the fire-side; and there I sit with him,–not keeping up a continual flow of talk, but each speaking as any wisdom happens to come into his mind.
The wind, this morning, is from the northwestward, rather brisk, but not very strong. There is a scattering of clouds about the sky; but the atmosphere is singularly clear, and we can see several hills of the interior, the cloud-like White Mountains, and, along the shore, the long white beaches and the dotted dwellings, with great distinctness. Many small vessels spread their wings, and go seaward.
I have been rambling over the southern part of the island, and looking at the traces of habitations there. There are several enclosures,–the largest, perhaps, thirty yards square,–surrounded with a rough stone-wall of very mossy antiquity, built originally broad and strong, two or three large stones in width, and piled up breast-high or more, and taking advantage of the extending ledge to make it higher. Within this enclosure there is almost a clear space of soil, which was formerly, no doubt, cultivated as a garden, but is now close cropt by the sheep and cattle, except where it produces thistles, or the poisonous weed called mercury, which seems to love these old walls, and to rot itself in or near them. These walls are truly venerable, gray, and mossy; and you see at once that the hands that piled the stones must have been long ago turned to dust. Close by the enclosure is the hollow of an old cellar, with rocks tumbled into it, but the layers of stone at the side still to be traced, and bricks, broken or with rounded edges, scattered about, and perhaps pieces of lime; and weeds and grass growing about the whole. Several such sites of former human homes may be seen there, none of which can possibly be later than the Revolution, and probably they are as old as the settlement of the island. The site has Smutty Nose and Star opposite, with a road (that is, a water-road) between, varying from half a mile to a mile. Duck Island is also seen on the left; and, on the right, the shore of the mainland. Behind, the rising ground intercepts the view. Smith’s monument is visible. I do not see where the inhabitants could have kept their boats, unless in the chasms worn by the sea into the rocks.
One of these chasms has a spring of fresh water in the gravelly base, down to which the sea has worn out. The chasm has perpendicular, though irregular, sides, which the waves have chiselled out very square. Its width varies from ten to twenty feet, widest towards the sea; and on the shelves, up and down the sides, some soil has been here and there accumulated, on which grow grass and wild-flowers,–such as goldenrod, now in bloom, and raspberry-bushes, the fruit of which I found ripe,–the whole making large parts of the sides of the chasm green, its verdure overhanging the strip of sea that dashes and foams into the hollow. Sea-weed, besides what grows upon and shags the submerged rocks, is tossed into the harbor, together with stray pieces of wood, chips, barrel-staves, or (as to-day) an entire barrel, or whatever else the sea happens to have on hand. The water rakes to and fro over the pebbles at the bottom of the chasm, drawing back, and leaving much of it bare, then rushing up, with more or less of foam and fury, according to the force and direction of the wind; though, owing to the protection of the adjacent islands, it can never have a gale blowing right into its mouth. The spring is situated so far down the chasm, that, at half or two thirds tide, it is covered by the sea. Twenty minutes after the retiring of the tide suffices to restore to it its wonted freshness.
In another chasm, very much like the one here described, I saw a niche in the rock, about tall enough for a person of moderate stature to stand upright. It had a triangular floor and a top, and was just the place to hold the rudest statue that ever a savage made.
“Old Bab,” the ghost, has a ring round his neck, and is supposed either to have been hung or to have had his throat cut, but he steadfastly declines telling the mode of his death. There is a luminous appearance about him as he walks, and his face is pale and very dreadful.
The Fanny arrived this forenoon, and sailed again before dinner. She brought, as passenger, a Mr. Balch, brother to the country trader who has been spending a few days here. On her return, she has swept the islands of all the non-residents except myself. The wind being ahead, and pretty strong, she will have to beat up, and the voyage will be anything but agreeable. The spray flew before her bows, and doubtless gave the passengers all a thorough wetting within the first half-hour.
The view of Star Island or Gosport from the north is picturesque,–the village, or group of houses, being gathered pretty closely together in the centre of the island, with some green about them; and above all the other edifices, wholly displayed, stands the little stone church, with its tower and belfry. On the right is White Island, with the light-house; to the right of that, and a little to the northward, Londoner’s Rock, where, perhaps, of old, some London ship was wrecked. To the left of Star Island, and nearer Hog, or Appledore, is Smutty Nose. Pour the blue sea about these islets, and let the surf whiten and steal up from their points, and from the reefs about them (which latter whiten for an instant, and then are lost in the whelming and eddying depths), the northwest-wind the while raising thousands of white-caps, and the evening sun shining solemnly over the expanse,–and it is a stern and lovely scene.
The valleys that intersect, or partially intersect, the island are a remarkable feature. They appear to be of the same formation as the fissures in the rocks, but, as they extend farther from the sea, they accumulate a little soil along the irregular sides, and so become green and shagged with bushes, though with the rock everywhere thrusting itself through. The old people of the isles say that their fathers could remember when the sea, at high tide, flowed quite through the valley in which the hotel stands, and that boats used to pass. Afterwards it was a standing pond; then a morass, with cat-tail flags growing in it. It has filled up, so far as it is filled, by the soil being washed down from the higher ground on each side. The storms, meanwhile, have tossed up the shingle and paving-stones at each end of the valley, so as to form a barrier against the passage of any but such mighty waves as that which thundered through a year or two ago.
The old inhabitants lived in the centre or towards the south of the island, and avoided the north and east because the latter were so much bleaker in winter. They could moor their boats in the road, between Smutty Nose and Hog, but could not draw them up. Mr. Laighton found traces of old dwellings in the vicinity of the hotel, and it is supposed that the principal part of the population was on this island. I spent the evening at Mr. Thaxter’s, and we drank a glass of his 1820 Scheidam. The northwest-wind was high at ten o’clock, when I came home, the tide full, and the murmur of the waves broad and deep.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for September 13th, 1851. Collected in Passages from the American Note-Books.
Sunday, September 5th.–To-day I have done little or nothing except to roam along the shore of the island, and to sit under the piazza, talking with Mr. Laighton or some of his half-dozen guests; and about an hour before dinner I came up to my room, and took a brief nap. Since dinner I have been writing the foregoing journal. I observe that the Fanny Ellsler, our passenger and mail boat, has arrived from Portsmouth, and now lies in a little cove, moored to the rocky shore, with a flag flying at her main-mast. We have been watching her for some hours, but she stopped to fish, and then went to some other island, before putting in here. I must go and see what news she has brought.
“What did you fire at?” asked one of the Yankees just now of a boy who had been firing a gun. “Nothing,” said the boy. “Did you hit it?” rejoined the Yankee.
The farmer is of a much ruder and rougher mould than his brother,–heavier in frame and mind, and far less cultivated. It was on this account, probably, that he labored as a farmer, instead of setting up a shop. When it is warm, as yesterday, he takes off his coat, and, not minding whether or no his shirt-sleeves be soiled, goes in this guise to meals or wherever else,–not resuming his coat as long as he is more comfortable without it. His shoulders have a stoop, and altogether his air is that of a farmer in repose. His brother is handsome, and might have quite the aspect of a smart, comely young man, if well dressed.
This island is said to be haunted by a spectre called “Old Bab.” He was one of Captain Kidd’s men, and was slain for the protection of the treasure. Mr. Laighton said that, before he built his house, nothing would have induced the inhabitant of another island to come to this after nightfall. The ghost especially haunts the space between the hotel and the cove in front. There has, in times past, been great search for the treasure.
Mr. Thaxter tells me that the women on the island are very timid as to venturing on the sea,–more so than the women of the mainland,–and that they are easily frightened about their husbands. Very few accidents happen to the boats or men,–none, I think, since Mr. Thaxter has been here. They are not an enterprising set of people, never liking to make long voyages. Sometimes one of them will ship on a voyage to the West Indies, but generally only on coast-wise trips, or fishing or mackerel voyages. They have a very strong local attachment, and return to die. They are now generally temperate, formerly very much the contrary.
September 5th.–A large part of the guests took their departure after an early breakfast this morning, including Mr. Titcomb, Mr. Weiss, the two Yankees, and Mr. Thaxter,–who, however, went as skipper or supercargo, and will return with the boat. I have been fishing for cunners off the rocks, but with intolerably poor success. There is nothing so dispiriting as poor fishing, and I spend most of the time with my head on my hands, looking at the sea breaking against the rocks, shagged around the bases with seaweed. It is a sunny forenoon, with a cool breeze from the south-west. The mackerel craft are in the offing. Mr. Laighton says that the Spy (the boat which went to the mainland this morning) is now on her return with all her colors set; and he thinks that Pierce is on board, he having sent Mr. Thaxter to invite him to come in this boat.
Pierce arrived before dinner in the Spy, accompanied by Judge Upham and his brother and their wives, his own wife, Mr. Furness, and three young ladies. After dinner some of the gentlemen crossed over to Gosport, where we visited the old graveyard, in which were monuments to Rev. Mr. Tucke (died 1773, after forty years’ settlement) and to another and later minister of the island. They were of red freestone, lying horizontally on piles of the granite fragments, such as are scattered all about. There were other graves, marked by the rudest shapes of stones at head and foot. And so many stones protruded from the ground, that it was wonderful how space and depth enough was found between them to cover the dead. We went to the house of the town clerk of Gosport (a drunken fisherman, Joe Caswell by name), and there found the town records, commencing in 1732, in a beautiful style of penmanship. They. are imperfect, the township having been broken up, probably at the time of the Revolution. Caswell, being very drunk, immediately put in a petition to Pierce to build a sea-mole for the protection of the navigation of the island when he should be President. He was dressed in the ordinary fisherman’s style,–red-baize shirt, trousers tucked into large boots, which, as he had just come ashore, were wet with salt water.
He led us down to the shore of the island, towards the east, and showed us Betty Moody’s Hole. This Betty Moody was a woman of the island in old times. The Indians came off on a depredating excursion, and she fled from them with a child, and hid herself in this hole, which is formed by several great rocks being lodged so as to cover one of the fissures which are common along these shores. I crept into the hole, which is somewhat difficult of access, long, low, and narrow, and might well enough be a hiding-place. The child, or children, began to cry; and Betty, fearful of discovery, murdered them to save herself. Joe Caswell did not tell the latter part of the story, but Mr. Thaxter did.
Not far from the spot there is a point of rocks extending out farther into the ocean than the rest of the island. Some four or five years ago there was a young woman residing at Gosport in the capacity of school-teacher. She was of a romantic turn, and used to go and sit on this point of rock to view the waves. One day, when the wind was high, and the surf raging against the rocks, a great wave struck her, as she sat on the edge, and seemed to deprive her of sense; another wave, or the reflex of the same one, carried her off into the sea, and she was seen no more. This happened, I think, in 1846.
Passing a rock near the centre of the island, which rose from the soil about breast-high, and appeared to have been split asunder, with an incalculably aged and moss-grown fissure, the surfaces of which, however, precisely suited each other, Mr. Hatch mentioned that there was an idea among the people, with regard to rocks thus split, that they were rent asunder at the time of the Crucifixion. Judge Upham observed that this superstition was common in all parts of the country.
Mr. Hatch said that he was professionally consulted the other day, by a man who had been digging for buried treasure at Dover Point, up the Piscataqua River; and, while he and his companions were thus engaged, the owner of the land came upon them, and compelled Hatch’s client to give him a note for a sum of money. The object was to inquire whether this note was obligatory. Hatch says that there are a hundred people now resident in Portsmouth, who, at one time or another, have dug for treasure. The process is, in the first place, to find out the site of the treasure by the divining-rod. A circle is then described with the steel rod about the spot, and a man walks around within its verge, reading the Bible, to keep off the evil spirit while his companions dig. If a word is spoken, the whole business is a failure. Once, the person who told him the story reached the lid of the chest, so that the spades plainly scraped upon it, when one of the men spoke, and the chest immediately moved sideways into the earth. Another time, when he was reading the Bible within the circle, a creature like a white horse, but immoderately large, came from a distance towards the circle, looked at him, and then began to graze about the spot. He saw the motion of the jaws, but heard no sound of champing. His companions saw the gigantic horse precisely as he did, only to them it appeared bay instead of white.
The islanders stared with great curiosity at Pierce. One pretty young woman appeared inclined to engross him entirely to herself.
There is a bowling-alley on the island, at which some of the young fishermen were rolling.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for September 5th, 1852. Collected in Passages from the American Note-Books.
In the evening there was a strange fellow in the bar-room,–a sort of mock Methodist,–a cattle-drover, who had stopped here for the night with two cows and a Durham bull. All his talk turned upon religion, and he would ever and anon burst out in some strain of scriptural-styled eloquence, chanted through his nose, like an exhortation at a camp-meeting. A group of Universalists and no-religionists sat around him, making him their butt, and holding wild argument with him; and he strangely mingled humor, with his enthusiasm, and enthusiasm with his humor so that it was almost impossible to tell whether he were in jest or earnest. Probably it was neither, but an eccentricity, an almost monomania, that has grown upon him,–perhaps the result of strong religious excitement. And, having been a backslider, he is cursed with a half-frenzied humor. In the morning he talked in the same strain at breakfast, while quaffing fourteen cups of tea,–Eliza, all the while, as she supplied him, entreating him not to drink any more. After breakfast (it being the Sabbath) he drove his two cows and bull past the stoop, raising his staff, and running after them with strange, uncouth gestures; and the last word I heard from him was an exhortation: “Gentlemen, now all of you take your Bibles, and meditate on divine things,”–this being uttered with raised hands, and a Methodistical tone, intermingled, as was his expression, with something humorous; so that, to the last, the puzzle was still kept up, whether he was an enthusiast or a jester. He wore a suit of coarse brown cloth, cut in rather a Quaker fashion; and he had a large nose, and his face expressed enthusiasm and humor,–a sort of smile and twinkle of the eye, with wildness. He is excellent at a bargain; and if, in the midst of his ghostly exhortation, the talk were turned on cattle, he eagerly seized the topic and expatiated on it.
While this fellow was enumerating the Universalists in neighboring towns who had turned from their errors on their death-beds, some one exclaimed, “John Hodges! why, he isn’t dead,–he’s alive and well.” Whereat there was a roar of laughter. While holding an argument at table, I heard him mutter to himself at something that his adversary said; and though I could not distinguish what it was, the tone did more to convince me of some degree of earnestness than aught beside. This character might be wrought into a strange portrait of something sad, terrific, and laughable.
The Sabbath wore away lazily, and therefore wickedly. The heavy caravan-man inquired for some book of light reading, and, having obtained an old volume of a literary paper, betook himself to the seat of his wagon, to read. At other times he smoked, and talked sensibly enough with anybody that offered. He is a man of sense, though not quick, and seems to be a fair man.
When he walks, he puts the thumb of each hand into the armhole of his waistcoat, and moves along stiffly, with a knock-kneed gait. His talk was chiefly of hotels, and such matters as a man, always travelling, without any purpose of observation for mental improvement, would be interested in. He spoke of his life as a hard one.
There was a Methodist quarterly meeting here, and a love-feast.
There is a fellow hereabout who refuses to pay six dollars for the coffin in which his wife was buried. She died about six months since, and I believe he is already engaged to another. He is young and rather comely, but has not a straightforward look.
One man plods along, looking always on the ground, without ever lifting his eyes to the mountain scenery, and forest, and clouds, above and around him. Another walks the street with a quick, prying eye, and sharp face,–the most expressive possible of one on the look-out for gain,–of the most disagreeable class of Yankees. There is also a sour-looking, unwholesome boy, the son of this man, whose voice is querulous and ill-natured, precisely suited to his aspect. So is his character.
We have another with Indian blood in him, and the straight, black hair,–something of the tawny skin and the quick, shining eye of the Indian. He seems reserved, but is not ill-natured when spoken to. There is so much of the white in him, that he gives the impression of belonging to a civilized race, which causes the more strange sensation on discovering that he has a wild lineage.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 19th, 1838. Collected in Passages from the American Note-Books.
On the road to Northampton, we passed a tame crow, which was sitting on the peak of a barn. The crow flew down from its perch, and followed us a great distance, hopping along the road, and flying with its large, black, flapping wings, from post to post of the fence, or from tree to tree. At last he gave up the pursuit with a croak of disappointment. The driver said, perhaps correctly, that the crow had scented some salmon which was in a basket under the seat, and that this was the secret of his pursuing us. This would be a terrific incident if it were a dead body that the crow scented, instead of a basket of salmon. Suppose, for instance, in a coach travelling along, that one of the passengers suddenly should die, and that one of the indications of his death would be this deportment of the crow.