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.
Thursday, July 20th.–A drive yesterday afternoon to a pond in the vicinity of Augusta, about nine miles off, to fish for white perch. Remarkables: the steering of the boat through the crooked, labyrinthine brook, into the open pond,–the man who acted as pilot,–his talking with B—- about politics, the bank, the iron money of “a king who came to reign, in Greece, over a city called Sparta,”–his advice to B—- to come amongst the laborers on the mill-dam, because it stimulated them “to see a man grinning amongst them.” The man took hearty tugs at a bottle of good Scotch whiskey, and became pretty merry. The fish caught were the yellow perch, which are not esteemed for eating; the white perch, a beautiful, silvery, round-backed fish, which bites eagerly, runs about with the line while being pulled up, makes good sport for the angler, and an admirable dish; a great chub; and three horned pouts, which swallow the hook into their lowest entrails. Several dozen fish were taken in an hour or two, and then we returned to the shop where we had left our horse and wagon, the pilot very eccentric behind us. It was a small, dingy shop, dimly lighted by a single inch of candle, faintly disclosing various boxes, barrels standing on end, articles hanging from the ceiling; the proprietor at the counter, whereon appear gin and brandy, respectively contained in a tin pint-measure and an earthenware jug, with two or three tumblers beside them, out of which nearly all the party drank; some coming up to the counter frankly, others lingering in the background, waiting to be pressed, two paying for their own liquor and withdrawing. B—- treated them twice round. The pilot, after drinking his brandy, gave a history of our fishing expedition, and how many and how large fish we caught. B—- making acquaintances and renewing them, and gaining great credit for liberality and free-heartedness,–two or three boys looking on and listening to the talk,–the shopkeeper smiling behind his counter, with the tarnished tin scales beside him,–the inch of candle burning down almost to extinction. So we got into our wagon, with the fish, and drove to Robinson’s tavern, almost five miles off, where we supped and passed the night In the bar-room was a fat old countryman on a journey, and a quack doctor of the vicinity, and an Englishman with a peculiar accent. Seeing B—-‘s jointed and brass-mounted fishing-pole, he took it for a theodolite, and supposed that we had been on a surveying expedition. At supper, which consisted of bread, butter, cheese, cake, doughnuts and gooseberry-pie, we were waited upon by a tall, very tall woman, young and maiden-looking, yet with a strongly outlined and determined face. Afterwards we found her to be the wife of mine host. She poured out our tea, came in when we rang the table-bell to refill our cups, and again retired. While at supper, the fat old traveller was ushered through the room into a contiguous bedroom. My own chamber, apparently the best in the house, had its walls ornamented with a small, gilt-framed, foot-square looking-glass, with a hair-brush hanging beneath it; a record of the deaths of the family written on a black tomb, in an engraving, where a father, mother, and child were represented in a graveyard, weeping over said tomb; the mourners dressed in black, country-cut clothes; the engraving executed in Vermont. There was also a wood engraving of the Declaration of Independence, with fac-similes of the autographs; a portrait of the Empress Josephine, and another of Spring. In the two closets of this chamber were mine hostess’s cloak, best bonnet, and go-to-meeting apparel. There was a good bed, in which I slept tolerably well, and, rising betimes, ate breakfast, consisting of some of our own fish, and then started for Augusta. The fat old traveller had gone off with the harness of our wagon, which the hostler had put on to his horse by mistake. The tavern-keeper gave us his own harness, and started in pursuit of the old man, who was probably aware of the exchange, and well satisfied with it.
Our drive to Augusta, six or seven miles, was very pleasant, a heavy rain having fallen during the night, and laid the oppressive dust of the day before. The road lay parallel with the Kennebec, of which we occasionally had near glimpses. The country swells back from the river in hills and ridges, without any interval of level ground; and there were frequent woods, filling up the valleys or crowning the summits. The land is good, the farms look neat, and the houses comfortable. The latter are generally but of one story, but with large barns; and it was a good sign, that, while we saw no houses unfinished nor out of repair, one man at least had found it expedient to make an addition to his dwelling. At the distance of more than two miles, we had a view of white Augusta, with its steeples, and the State-House, at the farther end of the town. Observable matters along the road were the stage,–all the dust of yesterday brushed off, and no new dust contracted,–full of passengers, inside and out; among them some gentlemanly people and pretty girls, all looking fresh and unsullied, rosy, cheerful, and curious as to the face of the country, the faces of passing travellers, and the incidents of their journey; not yet damped, in the morning sunshine, by long miles of jolting over rough and hilly roads,–to compare this with their appearance at midday, and as they drive into Bangor at dusk; two women dashing along in a wagon, and with a child, rattling pretty speedily down hill;–people looking at us from the open doors and windows;–the children staring from the wayside;–the mowers stopping, for a moment, the sway of their scythes;–the matron of a family, indistinctly seen at some distance within the house her head and shoulders appearing through the window, drawing her handkerchief over her bosom, which had been uncovered to give the baby its breakfast,–the said baby, or its immediate predecessor, sitting at the door, turning round to creep away on all fours;–a man building a flat-bottomed boat by the roadside: he talked with B—- about the Boundary question, and swore fervently in favor of driving the British “into hell’s kitchen” by main force.
Colonel B—-, the engineer of the mill-dam, is now here, after about a fortnight’s absence. He is a plain country squire, with a good figure, but with rather a heavy brow; a rough complexion; a gait stiff, and a general rigidity of manner, something like that of a schoolmaster. He originated in a country town, and is a self-educated man. As he walked down the gravel-path to-day, after dinner, he took up a scythe, which one of the mowers had left on the sward, and began to mow, with quite a scientific swing. On the coming of the mower, he laid it down, perhaps a little ashamed of his amusement. I was interested in this; to see a man, after twenty-five years of scientific occupation, thus trying whether his arms retained their strength and skill for the labors of his youth,–mindful of the day when he wore striped trousers, and toiled in his shirt-sleeves,–and now tasting again, for pastime, this drudgery beneath a fervid sun. He stood awhile, looking at the workmen, and then went to oversee the laborers at the mill-dam.
May 19th.–. . . Lights and shadows are continually flitting across my inward sky, and I know neither whence they come nor whither they go; nor do I inquire too closely into them. It is dangerous to look too minutely into such phenomena. It is apt to create a substance where at first there was a mere shadow. . . . If at any time there should seem to be an expression unintelligible from one soul to another, it is best not to strive to interpret it in earthly language, but wait for the soul to make itself understood; and, were we to wait a thousand years, we need deem it no more time than we can spare. . . . It is not that I have any love of mystery, but because I abhor it, and because I have often felt that words may be a thick and darksome veil of mystery between the soul and the truth which it seeks. Wretched were we, indeed, if we had no better means of communicating ourselves, no fairer garb in which to array our essential being, than these poor rags and tatters of Babel. Yet words are not without their use even for purposes of explanation,–but merely for explaining outward acts and all sorts of external things, leaving the soul’s life and action to explain itself in its own way.
What a misty disquisition I have scribbled! I would not read it over for sixpence.
May 14th.–A stable opposite the house,–an old wooden construction, low, in three distinct parts; the centre being the stable proper, where the horses are kept, and with a chamber over it for the hay. On one side is the department for chaises and carriages; on the other, the little office where the books are kept. In the interior region of the stable everything is dim and undefined,–half-traceable outlines of stalls, sometimes the shadowy aspect of a horse. Generally a groom is dressing a horse at the stable door, with a care and accuracy that leave no part of the animal unvisited by the currycomb and brush; the horse, meanwhile, evidently enjoying it, but sometimes, when the more sensitive parts are touched, giving a half-playful kick with his hind legs, and a little neigh. If the men bestowed half as much care on their own personal cleanliness, they would be all the better and healthier men therefor. They appear to be busy men, these stablers, yet have a lounging way with them, as if indolence were somehow diffused through their natures. The apparent head of the establishment is a sensible, thoughtful-looking, large-featured, and homely man, past the middle age, clad rather shabbily in gray, stooping somewhat, and without any smartness about him. There is a groom, who seems to be a very comfortable kind of personage,–a man of forty-five or thereabouts (R. W. Emerson says he was one of his schoolmates), but not looking so old; corpulent, not to say fat, with a white frock, which his goodly bulk almost fills, enveloping him from neck nearly to ankles. On his head he wears a cloth cap of a jockey shape; his pantaloons are turned up an inch or two at bottom, and he wears brogans on his feet. His hair, as may be seen when he takes off his cap to wipe his brow, is black and in perfect preservation, with not exactly a curl, yet a vivacious and elastic kind of twist in it. His face is fresh-colored, comfortable, sufficiently vivid in expression, not at all dimmed by his fleshly exuberance, because the man possesses vigor enough to carry it off. His bodily health seems perfect; so, indeed, does his moral and intellectual. He is very active and assiduous in his duties, currycombing and rubbing down the horses with alacrity and skill; and, when not otherwise occupied, you may see him talking jovially with chance acquaintances, or observing what is going forward in the street. If a female acquaintance happens to pass, he touches his jockey cap, and bows, accomplishing this courtesy with a certain smartness that proves him a man of the world. Whether it be his greater readiness to talk, or the wisdom of what he says, he seems usually to be the centre talker of the group. It is very pleasant to see such an image of earthly comfort as this. A fat man who feels his flesh as a disease and encumbrance, and on whom it presses so as to make him melancholy with dread of apoplexy, and who moves heavily under the burden of himself,–such a man is a doleful and disagreeable object. But if he have vivacity enough to pervade all his earthiness, and bodily force enough to move lightly under it, and if it be not too unmeasured to have a trimness and briskness in it, then it is good and wholesome to look at him.
In the background of the house, a cat, occasionally stealing along on the roofs of the low out-houses; descending a flight of wooden steps into the brick area; investigating the shed, and entering all dark and secret places; cautious, circumspect, as if in search of something; noiseless, attentive to every noise. Moss grows on spots of the roof; there are little boxes of earth here and there, with plants in them. The grass-plots appertaining to each of the houses whose rears are opposite ours (standing in Temple Place) are perhaps ten or twelve feet broad, and three times as long. Here and there is a large, painted garden-pot, half buried in earth. Besides the large trees in blossom, there are little ones, probably of last year’s setting out. Early in the day chambermaids are seen hanging the bedclothes out of the upper windows; at the window of the basement of the same house, I see a woman ironing. Were I a solitary prisoner, I should not doubt to find occupation of deep interest for my whole day in watching only one of the houses. One house seems to be quite shut up; all the blinds in the three windows of each of the four stories being closed, although in the roof-windows of the attic story the curtains are hung carelessly upward, instead of being drawn. I think the house is empty, perhaps for the summer. The visible side of the whole row of houses is now in the shade,–they looking towards, I should say, the southwest. Later in the day, they are wholly covered with sunshine, and continue so through the afternoon; and at evening the sunshine slowly withdraws upward, gleams aslant upon the windows, perches on the chimneys, and so disappears. The upper part of the spire and the weathercock of the Park Street Church appear over one of the houses, looking as if it were close behind. It shows the wind to be east now. At one of the windows of the third story sits a woman in a colored dress, diligently sewing on something white. She sews, not like a lady, but with an occupational air. Her dress, I observe, on closer observation, is a kind of loose morning sack, with, I think, a silky gloss on it; and she seems to have a silver comb in her hair,–no, this latter item is a mistake. Sheltered as the space is between the two rows of houses, a puff of the eastwind finds its way in, and shakes off some of the withering blossoms from the cherry-trees.
Quiet as the prospect is, there is a continual and near thunder of wheels proceeding from Washington Street. In a building not far off, there is a hall for exhibitions; and sometimes, in the evenings, loud music is heard from it; or, if a diorama be shown (that of Bunker Hill, for instance, or the burning of Moscow), an immense racket of imitative cannon and musketry.
April 30th.–. . . I arose this morning feeling more elastic than I have throughout the winter; for the breathing of the ocean air has wrought a very beneficial effect, . . . What a beautiful, most beautiful afternoon this has been! It was a real happiness to live. If I had been merely a vegetable,–a hawthorn-bush, for instance,–I must have been happy in such an air and sunshine; but, having a mind and a soul, . . . I enjoyed somewhat more than mere vegetable happiness. . . . The footsteps of May can be traced upon the islands in the harbor, and I have been watching the tints of green upon them gradually deepening, till now they are almost as beautiful as they ever can be.
Saturday, April 8th.–After journalizing yesterday afternoon, I went out and sawed and split wood till teatime, then studied German (translating “Lenore”), with an occasional glance at a beautiful sunset, which I could not enjoy sufficiently by myself to induce me to lay aside the book. After lamplight, finished “Lenore,” and drowsed over Voltaire’s “Candide,” occasionally refreshing myself with a tune from Mr. Thoreau’s musical-box, which he had left in my keeping. The evening was but a dull one.
I retired soon after nine, and felt some apprehension that the old Doctor’s ghost would take this opportunity to visit me; but I rather think his former visitations have not been intended for me, and that I am not sufficiently spiritual for ghostly communication. At all events, I met with no disturbance of the kind, and slept soundly enough till six o’clock or thereabouts. The forenoon was spent with the pen in my hand, and sometimes I had the glimmering of an idea, and endeavored to materialize it in words; but on the whole my mind was idly vagrant, and refused to work to any systematic purpose. Between eleven amid twelve I went to the post-office, but found no letter; then spent above an hour reading at the Athenæum. On my way home, I encountered Mr. Flint, for the first time these many weeks, although he is our next neighbor in one direction. I inquired if he could sell us some potatoes, and he promised to send half a bushel for trial. Also, he encouraged me to hope that he might buy a barrel of our apples. After my encounter with Mr. Flint, I returned to our lonely old abbey, opened the door without the usual heart-spring, ascended to my study, and began to read a tale of Tieck. Slow work, and dull work too! Anon, Molly, the cook, rang the bell for dinner,–a sumptuous banquet of stewed veal and macaroni, to which I sat down in solitary state. My appetite served me sufficiently to eat with, but not for enjoyment. Nothing has a zest in my present widowed state. [Thus far I had written, when Mr. Emerson called.] After dinner, I lay down on the couch, with the “Dial” in my hand as a soporific, and had a short nap; then began to journalize.
Mr. Emerson came, with a sunbeam in his face; and we had as good a talk as I ever remember to have had with him. He spoke of Margaret Fuller, who, he says, has risen perceptibly into a higher state since their last meeting. [There rings the tea-bell.] Then we discoursed of Ellery Channing, a volume of whose poems is to be immediately published, with revisions by Mr. Emerson himself and Mr. Sam G. Ward. . . . He calls them “poetry for poets.” Next Mr. Thoreau was discussed, and his approaching departure; in respect to which we agreed pretty well, . . . We talked of Brook Farm, and the singular moral aspects which it presents, and the great desirability that its progress and developments should be observed and its history written; also of C. N—-, who, it appears, is passing through a new moral phasis. He is silent, inexpressive, talks little or none, and listens without response, except a sardonic laugh and some of his friends think that he is passing into permanent eclipse. Various other matters were considered or glanced at, and finally, between five and six o’clock, Mr. Emerson took his leave. I then went out to chop wood, my allotted space for which had been very much abridged by his visit; but I was not sorry. I went on with the journal for a few minutes before tea, and have finished the present record in the setting sunshine and gathering dusk. . . .
Friday, March 31st, 1843.–The first month of spring is already gone; and still the snow lies deep on hill and valley, and the river is still frozen from bank to bank, although a late rain has caused pools of water to stand on the surface of the ice, and the meadows are overflowed into broad lakes. Such a protracted winter has not been known for twenty years, at least. I have almost forgotten the wood-paths and shady places which I used to know so well last summer; and my views are so much confined to the interior of our mansion, that sometimes, looking out of the window, I am surprised to catch a glimpse of houses, at no great distance, which had quite passed out of my recollection. From present appearances, another month may scarcely suffice to wash away all the snow from the open country; and in the woods and hollows it may linger yet longer. The winter will not have been a day less than five months long; and it would not be unfair to call it seven. A great space, indeed, to miss the smile of Nature, in a single year of human life. Even out of the midst of happiness I have sometimes sighed and groaned; for I love the sunshine and the green woods, and the sparkling blue water; and it seems as if the picture of our inward bliss should be set in a beautiful frame of outward nature. . . . As to the daily course of our life, I have written with pretty commendable diligence, averaging from two to four hours a day; and the result is seen in various magazines. I might have written more, if it had seemed worth while, but I was content to earn only so much gold as might suffice for our immediate wants, having prospect of official station and emolument which would do away with the necessity of writing for bread. Those prospects have not yet had their fulfilment; and we are well content to wait, because an office would inevitably remove us from our present happy home,–at least from an outward home; for there is an inner one that will accompany us wherever we go. Meantime, the magazine people do not pay their debts; so that we taste some of the inconveniences of poverty. It is an annoyance, not a trouble.
Every day, I trudge through snow and slosh to the village, look into the post-office, and spend an hour at the reading-room; and then return home, generally without having spoken a word to a human being. . . . In the way of exercise I saw and split wood, and, physically, I never was in a better condition than now. This is chiefly owing, doubtless, to a satisfied heart, in aid of which comes the exercise above mentioned, and about a fair proportion of intellectual labor.
On the 9th of this month, we left home again on a visit to Boston and Salem. I alone went to Salem, where I resumed all my bachelor habits for nearly a fortnight, leading the same life in which ten years of my youth flitted away like a dream. But how much changed was I! At last I had caught hold of a reality which never could be taken from me. It was good thus to get apart from my happiness, for the sake of contemplating it.
On the 2lst, I returned to Boston, and went out to Cambridge to dine with Longfellow, whom I had not seen since his return from Europe. The next day we came back to our old house, which had been deserted all this time; for our servant had gone with us to Boston.
March 23d.–I do think that it is the doom laid upon me, of murdering so many of the brightest hours of the day at the Custom House, that makes such havoc with my wits, for here I am again trying to write worthily, . . . yet with a sense as if all the noblest part of man had been left out of my composition, or had decayed out of it since my nature was given to my own keeping. . . . Never comes any bird of Paradise into that dismal region. A salt or even a coal ship is ten million times preferable; for there the sky is above me, and the fresh breeze around me, and my thoughts, having hardly anything to do with my occupation, are as free as air.
Nevertheless, you are not to fancy that the above paragraph gives a correct idea of my mental and spiritual state. . . . It is only once in a while that the image and desire of a better and happier life makes me feel the iron of my chain; for, after all, a human spirit may find no insufficiency of food fit for it, even in the Custom House. And, with such materials as these, I do think and feel and learn things that are worth knowing, and which I should not know unless I had learned them there, so that the present portion of my life shall not be quite left out of the sum of my real existence. . . . It is good for me, on many accounts, that my life has had this passage in it. I know much more than I did a year ago. I have a stronger sense of power to act as a man among men. I have gained worldly wisdom, and wisdom also that is not altogether of this world. And, when I quit this earthly cavern where I am now buried, nothing will cling to me that ought to be left behind. Men will not perceive, I trust, by my look, or the tenor of my thoughts and feelings, that I have been a custom house officer.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for March 23rd, 1840. From Passages from the American Note-Books.
I’m a big fan of writers’ note-books (and maxims and aphorisms in general), and I’ve been enjoying Rainer J. Hashe’s new translation of Charles Baudelaire’s My Heart Laid Bare, which also collects Baudelaire’s “Flares” and “Consoling Maxims on Love,” and other fragments and notes and even illustrations—like this self-portrait:
From publisher Contra Mundum’s blurb:
In My Heart Laid Bare, an apodictic work of aphorism, maxim, note, and extended reflection, we encounter a fierce dandy who revolts against utilitarianism: to be useful, Baudelaire gibes, is to be hideous. Yet, contrarily, it is not dissolution that this poète maudit praises or celebrates. Although he rejects Progress, he prizes what he calls true progress, for him moral, the work of the individual alone. The dandy is not disaffected, but a rigorous spectator that burrows into the heart of reality itself; situated at the center of the world, yet hidden from it, this incognito figure tears back the flesh of humanity like a devilish surgeon. Through this act of absorption, observation, and analysis, like Rimbaud’s Supreme Scientist, Baudelaire’s dandy acquires “a subtle understanding of the entire moral mechanism of this world.” Here we have the poet as philosopher king and transvaluator of values; here we have the disciplined flâneur. Baudelaire the keen symptomatologist who escapes “the nightmare of Time” via Pleasure or Work. If Pleasure is consumptive for him, Work is fortifying, that is, not the work of a profession, — curséd thing, — but the work of poiesis. A kind of poetic Marcus Aurelius forging his inner citadel, Baudelaire’s dandy-flâneur does not retreat into a monastic cell,but situates himself amidst society: poet as vast mirror, poet as thinking kaleidoscope. To Nietzsche, My Heart Laid Bare contains “invaluable psychological observations relating to decadence of the kind in which Schopenhauer’s and Byron’s case has been burned.”
December 1st.–It is curious to observe how many methods people put in practice here to pick up a halfpenny. Yesterday I saw a man standing bareheaded and barelegged in the mud and misty weather, playing on a fife, in hopes to get a circle of auditors. Nobody, however, seemed to take any notice. Very often a whole band of musicians will strike up,–passing a hat round after playing a tune or two. On board the ferry, until the coldest weather began, there were always some wretched musicians, with an old fiddle, an old clarinet, and an old verdigrised brass bugle, performing during the passage, and, as the boat neared the shore, sending round one of their number to gather contributions in the hollow of the brass bugle. They were a very shabby set, and must have made a very scanty living at best. Sometimes it was a boy with an accordion, and his sister, a smart little girl, with a timbrel,–which, being so shattered that she could not play on it, she used only to collect halfpence in. Ballad-singers, or rather chanters or croakers, are often to be met with in the streets, but hand-organ players are not more frequent than in our cities.
I still observe little girls and other children bare-legged and barefooted on the wet sidewalks. There certainly never was anything so dismal as the November weather has been; never any real sunshine; almost always a mist; sometimes a dense fog, like slightly rarefied wool, pervading the atmosphere.
An epitaph on a person buried on a hill-side in Cheshire, together with some others, supposed to have died of the plague, and therefore not admitted into the churchyards:–
“Think it not strange our bones ly here,
Thine may ly thou knowst not where.”
These graves were near the remains of two rude stone crosses, the purpose of which was not certainly known, although they were supposed to be boundary marks. Probably, as the plague-corpses were debarred from sanctified ground, the vicinity of these crosses was chosen as having a sort of sanctity.
“Bang beggar,”–an old Cheshire term for a parish beadle.
Hawthorne Hall, Cheshire, Macclesfield Hundred, Parish of Wilmslow, and within the hamlet of Morley. It was vested at an early period in the Lathoms of Irlam, Lancaster County, and passed through the Leighs to the Pages of Earlshaw. Thomas Leigh Page sold it to Mr. Ralph Bower of Wilmslow, whose children owned it in 1817. The Leighs built a chancel in the church of Wilmslow, where some of them are buried, their arms painted in the windows. The hall is an “ancient, respectable mansion of brick.”
September 18th.–How the summer-time flits away, even while it seems to be loitering onward, arm in arm with autumn! Of late I have walked but little over the hills and through the woods, my leisure being chiefly occupied with my boat, which I have now learned to manage with tolerable skill. Yesterday afternoon I made a voyage alone up the North Branch of Concord River. There was a strong west-wind blowing dead against me, which, together with the current, increased by the height of the water, made the first part of the passage pretty toilsome. The black river was all dimpled over with little eddies and whirlpools; and the breeze, moreover, caused the billows to beat against the bow of the boat, with a sound like the flapping of a bird’s wing. The water-weeds, where they were discernible through the tawny water, were straight outstretched by the force of the current, looking as if they were forced to hold on to their roots with all their might. If for a moment I desisted from paddling, the head of the boat was swept round by the combined might of wind and tide. However, I toiled onward stoutly, and, entering the North Branch, soon found myself floating quietly along a tranquil stream, sheltered from the breeze by the woods and a lofty hill. The current, likewise, lingered along so gently that it was merely a pleasure to propel the boat against it. I never could have conceived that there was so beautiful a river-scene in Concord as this of the North Branch. The stream flows through the midmost privacy and deepest heart of a wood, which, as if but half satisfied with its presence, calm, gentle, and unobtrusive as it is, seems to crowd upon it, and barely to allow it passage; for the trees are rooted on the very verge of the water, and dip their pendent branches into it. On one side there is a high bank, forming the side of a hill, the Indian name of which I have forgotten, though Mr. Thoreau told it to me; and here, in some instances, the trees stand leaning over the river, stretching out their arms as if about to plunge in headlong. On the other side, the bank is almost on a level with the water; and there the quiet congregation of trees stood with feet in the flood, and fringed with foliage down to its very surface. Vines here and there twine themselves about bushes or aspens or alder-trees, and hang their clusters (though scanty and infrequent this season) so that I can reach them from my boat. I scarcely remember a scene of more complete and lovely seclusion than the passage of the river through this wood. Even an Indian canoe, in olden times, could not have floated onward in deeper solitude than my boat. I have never elsewhere had such an opportunity to observe how much more beautiful reflection is than what we call reality. The sky, and the clustering foliage on either hand, and the effect of sunlight as it found its way through the shade, giving lightsome hues in contrast with the quiet depth of the prevailing tints,–all these seemed unsurpassably beautiful when beheld in upper air. But on gazing downward, there they were, the same even to the minutest particular, yet arrayed in ideal beauty, which satisfied the spirit incomparably more than the actual scene. I am half convinced that the reflection is indeed the reality, the real thing which Nature imperfectly images to our grosser sense. At any rate, the disembodied shadow is nearest to the soul.
There were many tokens of autumn in this beautiful picture. Two or three of the trees were actually dressed in their coats of many colors,–the real scarlet and gold which they wear before they put on mourning. These stood on low, marshy spots, where a frost has probably touched them already. Others were of a light, fresh green, resembling the hues of spring, though this, likewise, is a token of decay. The great mass of the foliage, however, appears unchanged; but ever and anon down came a yellow leaf, half flitting upon the air, half falling through it, and finally settling upon the water. A multitude of these were floating here and there along the river, many of them curling upward, so as to form little boats, fit for fairies to voyage in. They looked strangely pretty, with yet a melancholy prettiness, as they floated along. The general aspect of the river, however, differed but little from that of summer,–at least the difference defies expression. It is more in the character of the rich yellow sunlight than in aught else. The water of the stream has now a thrill of autumnal coolness; yet whenever a broad gleam fell across it, through an interstice of the foliage, multitudes of insects were darting to and fro upon its surface. The sunshine, thus falling across the dark river, has a most beautiful effect. It burnishes it, as it were, and yet leaves it as dark as ever.
On my return, I suffered the boat to float almost of its own will down the stream, and caught fish enough for this morning’s breakfast. But, partly from a qualm of conscience, I finally put them all into the water again, and saw them swim away as if nothing had happened.
In the cabinet of the Essex Historical Society, old portraits.–Governor Leverett; a dark mustachioed face, the figure two thirds length, clothed in a sort of frock-coat, buttoned, and a broad sword-belt girded round the waist, and fastened with a large steel buckle; the hilt of the sword steel,–altogether very striking. Sir William Pepperell, in English regimentals, coat, waistcoat, and breeches, all of red broad-cloth, richly gold-embroidered; he holds a general’s truncheon in his right hand, and extends the left towards the batteries erected against Louisbourg, in the country near which he is standing. Endicott, Pyncheon, and others, in scarlet robes, bands, etc. Half a dozen or more family portraits of the Olivers, some in plain dresses, brown, crimson, or claret; others with gorgeous gold-embroidered waistcoats, descending almost to the knees, so as to form the most conspicuous article of dress. Ladies, with lace ruffles, the painting of which, in one of the pictures, cost five guineas. Peter Oliver, who was crazy, used to fight with these family pictures in the old Mansion House; and the face and breast of one lady bear cuts and stabs inflicted by him. Miniatures in oil, with the paint peeling off, of stern, old, yellow faces. Oliver Cromwell, apparently an old picture, half length, or one third, in an oval frame, probably painted for some New England partisan. Some pictures that had been partly obliterated by scrubbing with sand. The dresses, embroidery, laces of the Oliver family are generally better done than the faces. Governor Leverett’s gloves,–the glove part of coarse leather, but round the wrist a deep, three or four inch border of spangles and silver embroidery. Old drinking-glasses, with tall stalks. A black glass bottle, stamped with the name of Philip English, with a broad bottom. The baby-linen, etc., of Governor Bradford of Plymouth County. Old manuscript sermons, some written in short-hand, others in a hand that seems learnt from print.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 22nd, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books. In addition to this description, the full journal entry contains a description of a walk, a note on Hawthorne’s ancestors, and no fewer than ten story ideas. The Pyncheons (of whom Thomas Pynchon descended) star in Hawthorne’s underread classic, The House of Seven Gables.
Concord, August 5th.–A rainy day,–a rainy day. I am commanded to take pen in hand, and I am therefore banished to the little ten-foot-square apartment misnamed my study; but perhaps the dismalness of the day and the dulness of my solitude will be the prominent characteristics of what I write. And what is there to write about? Happiness has no succession of events, because it is a part of eternity; and we have been living in eternity ever since we came to this old manse. Like Enoch, we seem to have been translated to the other state of being without having passed through death. Our spirits must have flitted away unconsciously, and we can only perceive that we have cast off our mortal part by the more real and earnest life of our souls. Externally, our Paradise has very much the aspect of a pleasant old domicile on earth. This antique house–for it looks antique, though it was created by Providence expressly for our use, and at the precise time when we wanted it–stands behind a noble avenue of balm-of-Gilead trees; and when we chance to observe a passing traveller through the sunshine and the shadow of this long avenue, his figure appears too dim and remote to disturb the sense of blissful seclusion. Few, indeed, are the mortals who venture within our sacred precincts. George Prescott, who has not yet grown earthly enough, I suppose, to be debarred from occasional visits to Paradise, comes daily to bring three pints of milk from some ambrosial cow; occasionally, also, he makes an offering of mortal flowers. Mr. Emerson comes sometimes, and has been feasted on our nectar and ambrosia. Mr. Thoreau has twice listened to the music of the spheres, which, for our private convenience, we have packed into a musical-box. E—- H—- , who is much more at home among spirits than among fleshly bodies, came hither a few times merely to welcome us to the ethereal world; but latterly she has vanished into some other region of infinite space. One rash mortal, on the second Sunday after our arrival, obtruded himself upon us in a gig. There have since been three or four callers, who preposterously think that the courtesies of the lower world are to be responded to by people whose home is in Paradise. I must not forget to mention that the butcher conies twice or thrice a week; and we have so far improved upon the custom of Adam and Eve, that we generally furnish forth our feasts with portions of some delicate calf or lamb, whose unspotted innocence entitles them to the happiness of becoming our sustenance. Would that I were permitted to record the celestial dainties that kind Heaven provided for us on the first day of our arrival! Never, surely, was such food heard of on earth,–at least, not by me. Well, the above-mentioned persons are nearly all that have entered into the hallowed shade of our avenue; except, indeed, a certain sinner who came to bargain for the grass in our orchard, and another who came with a new cistern. For it is one of the drawbacks upon our Eden that it contains no water fit either to drink or to bathe in; so that the showers have become, in good truth, a godsend. I wonder why Providence does not cause a clear, cold fountain to bubble up at our doorstep; methinks it would not be unreasonable to pray for such a favor. At present we are under the ridiculous necessity of sending to the outer world for water. Only imagine Adam trudging out of Paradise with a bucket in each hand, to get water to drink, or for Eve to bathe in! Intolerable! (though our stout handmaiden really fetches our water.) In other respects Providence has treated us pretty tolerably well; but here I shall expect something further to be done. Also, in the way of future favors, a kitten would be very acceptable. Animals (except, perhaps, a pig) seem never out of place, even in the most paradisiacal spheres. And, by the way, a young colt comes up our avenue, now and then, to crop the seldom-trodden herbage; and so does a company of cows, whose sweet breath well repays us for the food which they obtain. There are likewise a few hens, whose quiet cluck is heard pleasantly about the house. A black dog sometimes stands at the farther extremity of the avenue, and looks wistfully hitherward; but when I whistle to him, he puts his tail between his legs, and trots away. Foolish dog! if he had more faith, he should have bones enough.
July 31st.–Nothing remarkable to record. A child asleep in a young lady’s arms,–a little baby, two or three months old. Whenever anything partially disturbed the child, as, for instance, when the young lady or a by-stander patted its cheek or rubbed its chin, the child would smile; then all its dreams seemed to be of pleasure and happiness. At first the smile was so faint, that I doubted whether it were really a smile or no; but, on further efforts, it brightened forth very decidedly. This, without opening its eyes.–A constable, a homely, good-natured, business-looking man, with a warrant against an Irishman’s wife for throwing a brick-bat at a fellow. He gave good advice to the Irishman about the best method of coming easiest through the affair. Finally settled,–the justice agreeing to relinquish his fees, on condition that the Irishman would pay for the mending of his old boots!
I went with Monsieur S—- yesterday to pick raspberries. He fell through an old log bridge thrown over a hollow; looking back, only his head and shoulders appeared through the rotten logs and among the bushes.–A shower coming on, the rapid running of a little barefooted boy, coming up unheard, and dashing swiftly past us, and showing the soles of his naked feet as he ran adown the path, and up the opposite rise.
July 28th.–We had green corn for dinner yesterday, and shall have some more to-day, not quite full grown, but sufficiently so to be palatable. There has been no rain, except one moderate shower, for many weeks; and the earth appears to be wasting away in a slow fever. This weather, I think, affects the spirits very unfavorably. There is an irksomeness, a restlessness, a pervading dissatisfaction, together with an absolute incapacity to bend the mind to any serious effort. With me, as regards literary production, the summer has been unprofitable; and I only hope that my forces are recruiting themselves for the autumn and winter. For the future, I shall endeavor to be so diligent nine months of the year that I may allow myself a full and free vacation of the other three.
July 24th.–I bathed in the river on Thursday evening, and in the brook at the old dam on Saturday and Sunday,–the former time at noon. The aspect of the solitude at noon was peculiarly impressive, there being a cloudless sunshine, no wind, no rustling of the forest-leaves, no waving of the boughs, no noise but the brawling and babbling of the stream, making its way among the stones, and pouring in a little cataract round one side of the mouldering dam. Looking up the brook, there was a long vista,–now ripples, now smooth and glassy spaces, now large rocks, almost blocking up the channel; while the trees stood upon either side, mostly straight, but here and there a branch thrusting itself out irregularly, and one tree, a pine, leaning over,–not bending,–but leaning at an angle over the brook, rough and ragged; birches, alders; the tallest of all the trees an old, dead, leafless pine, rising white and lonely, though closely surrounded by others. Along the brook, now the grass and herbage extended close to the water; now a small, sandy beach. The wall of rock before described looking as if it had been hewn, but with irregular strokes of the workman, doing his job by rough and ponderous strength,–now chancing to hew it away smoothly and cleanly, now carelessly smiting, and making gaps, or piling on the slabs of rock, so as to leave vacant spaces. In the interstices grow brake and broad-leaved forest-grass. The trees that spring from the top of this wall have their roots pressing close to the rock, so that there is no soil between; they cling powerfully, and grasp the crag tightly with their knotty fingers. The trees on both sides are so thick, that the sight and the thoughts are almost immediately lost among confused stems, branches, and clustering green leaves,–a narrow strip of bright blue sky above, the sunshine falling lustrously down, and making the pathway of the brook luminous below. Entering among the thickets, I find the soil strewn with old leaves of preceding seasons, through which may be seen a black or dark mould; the roots of trees stretch frequently across the path; often a moss-grown brown log lies athwart, and when you set your foot down, it sinks into the decaying substance,–into the heart of oak or pine. The leafy boughs and twigs of the underbrush enlace themselves before you, so that you must stoop your head to pass under, or thrust yourself through amain, while they sweep against your face, and perhaps knock off your hat. There are rocks mossy and slippery; sometimes you stagger, with a great rustling of branches, against a clump of bushes, and into the midst of it. From end to end of all this tangled shade goes a pathway scarcely worn, for the leaves are not trodden through, yet plain enough to the eye, winding gently to avoid tree-trunks and rocks and little hillocks. In the more open ground, the aspect of a tall, fire-blackened stump, standing alone, high up on a swell of land, that rises gradually from one side of the brook, like a monument. Yesterday, I passed a group of children in this solitary valley,–two boys, I think, and two girls. One of the little girls seemed to have suffered some wrong from her companions, for she was weeping and complaining violently. Another time, I came suddenly on a small Canadian boy, who was in a hollow place, among the ruined logs of an old causeway, picking raspberries,–lonely among bushes and gorges, far up the wild valley,–and the lonelier seemed the little boy for the bright sunshine, that showed no one else in a wide space of view except him and me.
Remarkable items: the observation of Mons. S—- when B—- was saying something against the character of the French people,–“You ought not to form an unfavorable judgment of a great nation from mean fellows like me, strolling about in a foreign country.” I thought it very noble thus to protest against anything discreditable in himself personally being used against the honor of his country. He is a very singular person, with an originality in all his notions;–not that nobody has ever had such before, but that he has thought them out for himself. He told me yesterday that one of his sisters was a waiting-maid in the Rocher de Caucale. He is about the sincerest man I ever knew, never pretending to feelings that are not in him,–never flattering. His feelings do not seem to be warm, though they are kindly. He is so single-minded that he cannot understand badinage, but takes it all as if meant in earnest,–a German trait. He values himself greatly on being a Frenchman, though all his most valuable qualities come from Germany. His temperament is cool and pure, and he is greatly delighted with any attentions from the ladies. A short time since, a lady gave him a bouquet of roses and pinks; he capered and danced and sang, put it in water, and carried it to his own chamber; but he brought it out for us to see and admire two or three times a day, bestowing on it all the epithets of admiration in the French language,–“Superbe! magnifique!” When some of the flowers began to fade, he made the rest, with others, into a new nosegay, and consulted us whether it would be fit to give to another lady. Contrast this French foppery with his solemn moods, when we sat in the twilight, or after B—- is abed, talking of Christianity and Deism, of ways of life, of marriage, of benevolence,–in short, of all deep matters of this world and the next. An evening or two since, he began singing all manner of English songs,–such as Mrs. Hemans’s “Landing of the Pilgrims,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and some of Moore’s,–the singing pretty fair, but in the oddest tone and accent. Occasionally he breaks out with scraps from French tragedies, which he spouts with corresponding action. He generally gets close to me in these displays of musical and histrionic talent. Once he offered to magnetize me in the manner of Monsieur P—-.
Thursday, July 13th.–Two small Canadian boys came to our house yesterday, with strawberries to sell. It sounds strangely to hear children bargaining in French on the borders of Yankee-land. Among other languages spoken hereabouts must be reckoned the wild Irish. Some of the laborers on the mill-dam can speak nothing else. The intermixture of foreigners sometimes gives rise to quarrels between them and the natives. As we were going to the village yesterday afternoon, we witnessed the beginning of a quarrel between a Canadian and a Yankee,–the latter accusing the former of striking his oxen. B—- thrust himself between and parted them; but they afterwards renewed their fray, and the Canadian, I believe, thrashed the Yankee soundly–for which he had to pay twelve dollars. Yet he was but a little fellow.
Coming to the Mansion House about supper-time, we found somewhat of a concourse of people, the Governor and Council being in session on the subject of the disputed territory. The British have lately imprisoned a man who was sent to take the census; and the Mainiacs are much excited on the subject. They wish the Governor to order out the militia at once and take possession of the territory with the strong hand. There was a British army-captain at the Mansion House; and an idea was thrown out that it would be as well to seize upon him as a hostage. I would, for the joke’s sake, that it had been done. Personages at the tavern: the Governor, somewhat stared after as he walked through the bar-room; Councillors seated about, sitting on benches near the bar, or on the stoop along the front of the house; the Adjutant-General of the State; two young Blue-Noses, from Canada or the Provinces; a gentleman “thumbing his hat” for liquor, or perhaps playing off the trick of the “honest landlord” on some stranger. The decanters and wine-bottles on the move, and the beer and soda founts pouring out continual streams, with a whiz. Stage-drivers, etc., asked to drink with the aristocracy, and my host treating and being treated. Rubicund faces; breaths odorous of brandy-and-water. Occasionally the pop of a champagne cork.
Returned home, and took a lesson in French of Mons. S—- . I like him very much, and have seldom met with a more honest, simple, and apparently so well-principled a man; which good qualities I impute to his being, by the father’s side, of German blood. He looks more like a German–or, as he says, like a Swiss–than a Frenchman, having very light hair and a light complexion, and not a French expression. He is a vivacious little fellow, and wonderfully excitable to mirth; and it is truly a sight to see him laugh;–every feature partakes of his movement, and even his whole body shares in it, as he rises and dances about the room. He has great variety of conversation, commensurate with his experiences in life, and sometimes will talk Spanish, ore rotundo,— sometimes imitate the Catholic priests, chanting Latin songs for the dead, in deep, gruff, awful tones, producing really a very strong impression,–then he will break out into a light, French song, perhaps of love, perhaps of war, acting it out, as if on the stage of a theatre: all this intermingled with continual fun, excited by the incidents of the passing moment. He has Frenchified all our names, calling B—- Monsieur Du Pont, myself M. de L’Aubépine, and himself M. le Berger, and all, Knights of the Round-Table. And we live in great harmony and brotherhood, as queer a life as anybody leads, and as queer a set as may be found anywhere. In his more serious intervals, he talks philosophy and deism, and preaches obedience to the law of reason and morality; which law he says (and I believe him) he has so well observed, that, notwithstanding his residence in dissolute countries, he has never yet been sinful. He wishes me, eight or nine weeks hence, to accompany him on foot to Quebec, and then to Niagara and New York. I should like it well, if my circumstances and other considerations would permit. What pleases much in Mons. S—- is the simple and childlike enjoyment he finds in trifles, and the joy with which he speaks of going back to his own country, away from the dull Yankees, who here misunderstand and despise him. Yet I have never heard him speak harshly of them. I rather think that B—- and I will be remembered by him with more pleasure than anybody else in the country; for we have sympathized with him, and treated him kindly, and like a gentleman and an equal; and he comes to us at night as to home and friends.
I went down to the river to-day to see B—- fish for salmon with a fly,–a hopeless business; for he says that only one instance has been known in the United States of salmon being taken otherwise than with a net. A few chubs were all the fruit of his piscatory efforts. But while looking at the rushing and rippling stream, I saw a great fish, some six feet long and thick in proportion, suddenly emerge at whole length, turn a somerset, and then vanish again beneath the water. It was of a glistening, yellowish brown, with its fins all spread, and looking very strange and startling, darting out so lifelike from the black water, throwing itself fully into the bright sunshine, and then lost to sight and to pursuit. I saw also a long, flat-bottomed boat go up the river, with a brisk wind, and against a strong stream. Its sails were of curious construction: a long mast, with two sails below, one on each side of the boat, and a broader one surmounting them. The sails were colored brown, and appeared like leather or skins, but were really cloth. At a distance, the vessel looked like, or at least I compared it to, a monstrous water-insect skimming along the river. If the sails had been crimson or yellow, the resemblance would have been much closer. There was a pretty spacious raised cabin in the after part of the boat. It moved along lightly, and disappeared between the woody banks. These boats have the two parallel sails attached to the same yard, and some have two sails, one surmounting the other. They trade to Waterville and thereabouts,–names, as “Paul Pry,” on their sails.