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.
December 1st.–I saw a dandelion in bloom near the lake.
November 8th.–I am sorry that our journal has fallen so into neglect; but I see no chance of amendment. All my scribbling propensities will be far more than gratified in writing nonsense for the press; so that any gratuitous labor of the pen becomes peculiarly distasteful. Since the last date, we have paid a visit of nine days to Boston and Salem, whence we returned a week ago yesterday. Thus we lost above a week of delicious autumnal weather, which should have been spent in the woods or upon the river. Ever since our return, however, until to-day, there has been a succession of genuine Indian-summer days, with gentle winds, or none at all, and a misty atmosphere, which idealizes all nature, and a mild, beneficent sunshine, inviting one to lie down in a nook and forget all earthly care. To-day the sky is dark and lowering, and occasionally lets fall a few sullen tears. I suppose we must bid farewell to Indian summer now, and expect no more love and tenderness from Mother Nature till next spring be well advanced. She has already made herself as unlovely in outward aspect as can well be. We took a walk to Sleepy Hollow yesterday, and beheld scarcely a green thing, except the everlasting verdure of the family of pines, which, indeed, are trees to thank God for at this season. A range of young birches had retained a pretty liberal coloring of yellow or tawny leaves, which became very cheerful in the sunshine. There were one or two oak-trees whose foliage still retained a deep, dusky red, which looked rich and warm; but most of the oaks had reached the last stage of autumnal decay,–the dusky brown hue. Millions of their leaves strew the woods and rustle underneath the foot; but enough remain upon the boughs to make a melancholy harping when the wind sweeps over them. We found some fringed gentians in the meadow, most of them blighted and withered; but a few were quite perfect. The other day, since our return from Salem, I found a violet; yet it was so cold that day, that a large pool of water, under the shadow of some trees, had remained frozen from morning till afternoon. The ice was so thick as not to be broken by some sticks and small stones which I threw upon it. But ice and snow too will soon be no extraordinary matters with us.
During the last week we have had three stoves put up, and henceforth no light of a cheerful fire will gladden us at eventide. Stoves are detestable in every respect, except that they keep us perfectly comfortable.
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.
October 12th.–The cawing of the crow resounds among the woods. A sentinel is aware of your approach a great way off, and gives the alarm to his comrades loudly and eagerly,–Caw, caw, caw! Immediately the whole conclave replies, and you behold them rising above the trees, flapping darkly, and winging their way to deeper solitudes. Sometimes, however, they remain till you come near enough to discern their sable gravity of aspect, each occupying a separate bough, or perhaps the blasted tip-top of a pine. As you approach, one after another, with loud cawing, flaps his wings and throws himself upon the air.
There is hardly a more striking feature in the landscape nowadays than the red patches of blueberry and whortleberry bushes, as seen on a sloping hill-side, like islands among the grass, with trees growing in them; or crowning the summit of a bare, brown hill with their somewhat russet liveliness; or circling round the base of an earth-imbedded rock. At a distance, this hue, clothing spots and patches of the earth, looks more like a picture than anything else,–yet such a picture as I never saw painted.
The oaks are now beginning to look sere, and their leaves have withered borders. It is pleasant to notice the wide circle of greener grass beneath the circumference of an overshadowing oak. Passing an orchard, one hears an uneasy rustling in the trees, and not as if they were struggling with the wind. Scattered about are barrels to contain the gathered apples; and perhaps a great heap of golden or scarlet apples is collected in one place.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for October 12th, 1841. 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.
A rough-looking, sunburnt, soiled-shirted, odd, middle-aged little man came to the house a day or two ago, seeking work. He had come from Ohio, and was returning to his native place, somewhere in New England, stopping occasionally to earn money to pay his way. There was something rather ludicrous in his physiognomy and aspect. He was very free to talk with all and sundry. He made a long eulogy on his dog Tiger, yesterday, insisting on his good moral character, his not being quarrelsome, his docility, and all other excellent qualities that a huge, strong, fierce mastiff could have. Tiger is the bully of the village, and keeps all the other dogs in awe. His aspect is very spirited, trotting massively along, with his tail elevated and his head likewise. “When he sees a dog that’s anything near his size, he’s apt to growl a little,”–Tiger had the marks of a battle on him,–“yet he’s a good dog.”
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for August 26th, 1838. 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.
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.
The following are lines from Henry David Thoreau’s (then) unpublished manuscripts, compiled by Ralph Waldo Emerson and subjoined to the end of Emerson’s “Biographical Sketch” that introduces Thoreau’s Excursions.
Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.
The chub is a soft fish, and tastes like boiled brown paper salted.
The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to built a wood-shed with them.
The locust z-ing.
Devil’s-needles zigzagging along the Nut-Meadow brook.
Sugar is not so sweet to the palate as sound to the healthy ear.
I put on some hemlock-boughs, and the rich salt crackling of their leaves was like mustard to the ear, the crackling of uncountable regiments. Dead trees love the fire.
The bluebird carries the sky on his back.
The tanager flies through the green foliage as if it would ignite the leaves.
If I wish for a horse-hair for my compass-sight, I must go to the stable; but the hair-bird, with her sharp eyes, goes to the road.
Immortal water, alive even to the superficies.
Fire is the most tolerable third party.
Nature made ferns for pure leaves, to show what she could do in that line.
No tree has so fair a bole and so handsome an instep as the beech.
How did these beautiful rainbow-tints get into the shell of the fresh-water clam, buried in the mud at the bottom of our dark river?
Hard are the times when the infant’s shoes are second-foot.
We are strictly confined to our men to whom we give liberty.
Nothing is so much to be feared as fear. Atheism may comparatively be popular with God himself.
Of what significance the things you can forget? A little thought is sexton to all the world.
How can we expect a harvest of thought who have not had a seed-time of character?
Only he can be trusted with gifts who can present a face of bronze to expectations.
I ask to be melted. You can only ask of the metals that they be tender to the fire that melts them. To nought else can they be tender.
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.
May 1st.–. . . Every day of my life makes me feel more and more how seldom a fact is accurately stated; how, almost invariably, when a story has passed through the mind of a third person, it becomes, so far as regards the impression that it makes in further repetitions, little better than a falsehood, and this, too, though the narrator be the most truth-seeking person in existence. How marvellous the tendency is! . . . Is truth a fantasy which we are to pursue forever and never grasp?
My cold has almost entirely departed. Were it a sunny day, I should consider myself quite fit for labors out of doors; but as the ground is so damp, and the atmosphere so chill, and the sky so sullen, I intend to keep myself on the sick-list this one day longer, more especially as I wish to read Carlyle on Heroes.
There has been but one flower found in this vicinity,–and that was an anemone, a poor, pale, shivering little flower, that had crept under a stone-wall for shelter. Mr. Farley found it, while taking a walk with me.
. . . This is May-Day! Alas, what a difference between the ideal and the real!
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.