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.
September 7th.–In a wood, a heap or pile of logs and sticks, that had been cut for firewood, and piled up square, in order to be carted away to the house when convenience served,–or, rather, to be sledded in sleighing time. But the moss had accumulated on them, and leaves falling over them from year to year and decaying, a kind of soil had quite covered them, although the softened outline of the woodpile was perceptible in the green mound. It was perhaps fifty years–perhaps more–since the woodman had cut and piled those logs and sticks, intending them for his winter fires. But he probably needs no fire now. There was something strangely interesting in this simple circumstance. Imagine the long-dead woodman, and his long-dead wife and family, and the old man who was a little child when the wood was cut, coming back from their graves, and trying to make a fire with this mossy fuel.
Tuesday, August 30th.–I was promised, in the midst of Sunday’s rain, that Monday should be fair, and, behold! the sun came back to us, and brought one of the most perfect days ever made since Adam was driven out of Paradise. By the by, was there ever any rain in Paradise? If so, how comfortless must Eve’s bower have been! and what a wretched and rheumatic time must they have had on their bed of wet roses! It makes me shiver to think of it. Well, it seemed as if the world was newly created yesterday morning, and I beheld its birth; for I had risen before the sun was over the hill, and had gone forth to fish. How instantaneously did all dreariness and heaviness of the earth’s spirit flit away before one smile of the beneficent sun! This proves that all gloom is but a dream and a shadow, and that cheerfulness is the real truth. It requires many clouds,long brooding over us, to make us sad, but one gleam of sunshine always suffices to cheer up the landscape. The banks of the river actually laughed when the sunshine fell upon them; and the river itself was alive and cheerful, and, by way of fun and amusement, it had swept away many wreaths of meadow-hay, and old, rotten branches of trees, and all such trumpery. These matters came floating downwards, whirling round and round in the eddies, or hastening onward in the main current; and many of them, before this time, have probably been carried into the Merrimack, and will be borne onward to the sea. The spots where I stood to fish, on my preceding excursion, were now under water; and the tops of many of the bushes, along the river’s margin, barely emerged from the stream. Large spaces of meadow are overflowed.
There was a northwest-wind throughout the day; and as many clouds, the remnants of departed gloom, were scattered about the sky, the breeze was continually blowing them across the sun. For the most part, they were gone again in a moment; but sometimes the shadow remained long enough to make me dread a return of sulky weather. Then would come the burst of sunshine, making me feel as if a rainy day were henceforth an impossibility. . . .
In the afternoon Mr. Emerson called, bringing Mr. —-.
He is a good sort of humdrum parson enough, and well fitted to increase the stock of manuscript sermons, of which there must be a fearful quantity already in the world. Mr. —-, however, is probably one of the best and most useful of his class, because no suspicion of the necessity of his profession, constituted as it now is, to mankind, and of his own usefulness and success in it, has hitherto disturbed him; andtherefore, he labors with faith and confidence, as ministers did a hundred years ago.
After the visitors were gone, I sat at the gallery window, looking down the avenue; and soon there appeared an elderly woman,–a homely, decent old matron, dressed in a dark gown, and with what seemed a manuscript book under her arm. The wind sported with her gown, and blew her veil across her face, and seemed to make game of her, though on a nearer view she looked like a sad old creature, with a pale, thin countenance, and somewhat of a wild and wandering expression. She had a singular gait, reeling, as it were, and yet not quite reeling, from one side of the path to the other; going onward as if it were not much matter whether she went straight or crooked. Such were my observations as she approached through the scattered sunshine and shade of our long avenue, until, reaching the door, she gave a knock, and inquired for the lady of the house. Her manuscript contained a certificate, stating that the old woman was a widow from a foreign land, who had recently lost her son, and was now utterly destitute of friends and kindred, and without means of support. Appended to the certificate there was a list of names of people who had bestowed charity on her, with the amounts of the several donations,–none, as I recollect, higher than twenty-five cents. Here is a strange life, and a character fit for romance and poetry. All the early part of her life, I suppose, and much of her widowhood, were spent in the quiet of a home, with kinsfolk around her, and children, and the lifelong gossiping acquaintances that some women always create about them. But in her decline she has wandered away from all these, and from her native country itself, and is a vagrant, yet with something of the homeliness and decency of aspect belonging to one who has been a wife and mother, and has had a roof of her own above her head,–and, with all this, a wildness proper to her present life. I have a liking for vagrants of all sorts, and never, that I know of, refused my mite to a wandering beggar, when I had anything in my own pocket. There is so much wretchedness in the world, that we may safely take the word of any mortal professing to need our assistance; and, even should we be deceived, still the good to ourselves resulting from a kind act is worth more than the trifle by which we purchase it. It is desirable, I think, that such persons should be permitted to roam through our land of plenty, scattering the seeds of tenderness and charity, as birds of passage bear the seeds of precious plants from land to land, without even dreaming of the office which they perform.
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.
Saturday, August 13th.–My life, at this time, is more like that of a boy, externally, than it has been since I was really a boy. It is usually supposed that the cares of life come with matrimony; but I seem to have cast off all care, and live on with as much easy trust in Providence as Adam could possibly have felt before he had learned that there was a world beyond Paradise. My chief anxiety consists in watching the prosperity of my vegetables, in observing how they are affected by the rain or sunshine, in lamenting the blight of one squash and rejoicing at the luxurious growth of another. It is as if the original relation between man and Nature were restored in my case, and as if I were to look exclusively to her for the support of my Eve and myself,–to trust to her for food and clothing, and all things needful, with the full assurance that she would not fail me. The fight with the world,–the struggle of a man among men,–the agony of the universal effort to wrench the means of living from a host of greedy competitors,–all this seems like a dream to me. My business is merely to live and to enjoy; and whatever is essential to life and enjoyment will come as naturally as the dew from heaven. This is, practically at least, my faith. And so I awake in the morning with a boyish thoughtlessness as to how the outgoings of the day are to be provided for, and its incomings rendered certain. After breakfast, I go forth into my garden, and gather whatever the bountiful Mother has made fit for our present sustenance; and of late days she generally gives me two squashes and a cucumber, and promises me green corn and shell-beans very soon. Then I pass down through our orchard to the river-side, and ramble along its margin in search of flowers. Usually I discern a fragrant white lily, here and there along the shore, growing, with sweet prudishness, beyond the grasp of mortal arm. But it does not escape me so. I know what is its fitting destiny better than the silly flower knows for itself; so I wade in, heedless of wet trousers, and seize the shy lily by its slender stem. Thus I make prize of five or six, which are as many as usually blossom within my reach in a single morning;–some of them partially worm-eaten or blighted, like virgins with an eating sorrow at the heart; others as fair and perfect as Nature’s own idea was, when she first imagined this lovely flower. A perfect pond-lily is the most satisfactory of flowers. Besides these, I gather whatever else of beautiful chances to be growing in the moist soil by the river-side,–an amphibious tribe, yet with more richness and grace than the wild-flowers of the deep and dry woodlands and hedge-rows,–sometimes the white arrow-head, always the blue spires and broad green leaves of the pickerel-flower, which contrast and harmonize so well with the white lilies. For the last two or three days, I have found scattered stalks of the cardinal-flower, the gorgeous scarlet of which it is a joy even to remember. The world is made brighter and sunnier by flowers of such a hue. Even perfume, which otherwise is the soul and spirit of a flower, may be spared when it arrays itself in this scarlet glory. It is a flower of thought and feeling, too; it seems to have its roots deep down in the hearts of those who gaze at it. Other bright flowers sometimes impress me as wanting sentiment; but it is not so with this.
Well, having made up my bunch of flowers, I return home with them. . . . Then I ascend to my study, and generally read, or perchance scribble in this journal, and otherwise suffer Time to loiter onward at his own pleasure, till the dinner-hour. In pleasant days, the chief event of the afternoon, and the happiest one of the day, is our walk. . . . So comes the night; and I look back upon a day spent in what the world would call idleness, and for which I myself can suggest no more appropriate epithet, but which, nevertheless, I cannot feel to have been spent amiss. True, it might be a sin and shame, in such a world as ours, to spend a lifetime in this manner; but for a few summer weeks it is good to live as if this world were heaven. And so it is, and so it shall be, although, in a little while, a flitting shadow of earthly care and toil will mingle itself with our realities.
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 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.
June 18th.–A walk in North Salem in the decline of yesterday afternoon,–beautiful weather, bright, sunny, with a western or northwestern wind just cool enough, and a slight superfluity of heat. The verdure, both of trees and grass, is now in its prime, the leaves elastic, all life. The grass-fields are plenteously bestrewn with white-weed, large spaces looking as white as a sheet of snow, at a distance, yet with an indescribably warmer tinge than snow,–living white, intermixed with living green. The hills and hollows beyond the Cold Spring copiously shaded, principally with oaks of good growth, and some walnut-trees, with the rich sun brightening in the midst of the open spaces, and mellowing and fading into the shade,–and single trees, with their cool spot of shade, in the waste of sun: quite a picture of beauty, gently picturesque. The surface of the land is so varied, with woodland mingled, that the eye cannot reach far away, except now and then in vistas perhaps across the river, showing houses, or a church and surrounding village, in Upper Beverly. In one of the sunny bits of pasture, walled irregularly in with oak-shade, I saw a gray mare feeding, and, as I drew near, a colt sprang up from amid the grass,–a very small colt. He looked me in the face, and I tried to startle him, so as to make him gallop; but he stretched his long legs, one after another, walked quietly to his mother, and began to suck,–just wetting his lips, not being very hungry. Then he rubbed his head, alternately, with each hind leg. He was a graceful little beast.
I bathed in the cove, overhung with maples and walnuts, the water cool and thrilling. At a distance it sparkled bright and blue in the breeze and sun. There were jelly-fish swimming about, and several left to melt away on the shore. On the shore, sprouting amongst the sand and gravel, I found samphire, growing somewhat like asparagus. It is an excellent salad at this season, salt, yet with an herb-like vivacity, and very tender. I strolled slowly through the pastures, watching my long shadow making grave, fantastic gestures in the sun. It is a pretty sight to see the sunshine brightening the entrance of a road which shortly becomes deeply overshadowed by trees on both sides. At the Cold Spring, three little girls, from six to nine, were seated on the stones in which the fountain is set, and paddling in the water. It was a pretty picture, and would have been prettier, if they had shown bare little legs, instead of pantalets. Very large trees overhung them, and the sun was so nearly gone down that a pleasant gloom made the spot sombre, in contrast with these light and laughing little figures. On perceiving me, they rose up, tittering among themselves. It seemed that there was a sort of playful malice in those who first saw me; for they allowed the other to keep on paddling, without warning her of my approach. I passed along, and heard them come chattering behind.
June 15th.–The red light which the sunsets at this season diffuse; there being showery afternoons, but the sun setting bright amid clouds, and diffusing its radiance over those that are scattered in masses all over the sky. It gives a rich tinge to all objects, even to those of sombre hues, yet without changing the hues. The complexions of people are exceedingly enriched by it; they look warm, and kindled with a mild fire. The whole scenery and personages acquire, methinks, a passionate character. A love-scene should be laid on such an evening. The trees and the grass have now the brightest possible green, there having been so many showers alternating with such powerful sunshine. There are roses and tulips and honeysuckles, with their sweet perfume; in short, the splendor of a more gorgeous climate than ours might be brought into the picture.
The situation of a man in the midst of a crowd, yet as completely in the power of another, life and all, as if they two were in the deepest solitude.
June 9th.–Cleaning the attic to-day, here at the Wayside, the woman found an immense snake, flat and outrageously fierce, thrusting out its tongue. Ellen, the cook, killed it. She called it an adder, but it appears to have been a striped snake. It seems a fiend, haunting the house. On further inquiry, the snake is described as plaided with brown and black.
Cupid in these latter times has probably laid aside his bow and arrows, and uses fire-arms,–a pistol,–perhaps a revolver.
I burned great heaps of old letters, and other papers, a little while ago, preparatory to going to England. Among them were hundreds of letters. The world has no more such, and now they are all dust and ashes. What a trustful guardian of secret matters is fire! What should we do without fire and death?
May 23d.–I think the face of nature can never look more beautiful than now, with this so fresh and youthful green,–the trees not being fully in leaf, yet enough so to give airy shade to the woods. The sunshine fills them with green light. Monument Mountain and its brethren are green, and the lightness of the tint takes away something from their massiveness and ponderosity, and they respond with livelier effect to the shine and shade of the sky. Each tree now within sight stands out in its own individuality of hue. This is a very windy day, and the light shifts with magical alternation. In a walk to the lake just now with the children, we found abundance of flowers,–wild geranium, violets of all families, red columbines, and many others known and unknown, besides innumerable blossoms of the wild strawberry, which has been in bloom for the past fortnight. The Houstonias seem quite to overspread some pastures, when viewed from a distance. Not merely the flowers, but the various shrubs which one sees,–seated, for instance, on the decayed trunk of a tree,–are well worth looking at, such a variety and such enjoyment they have of their new growth. Amid these fresh creations, we see others that have already run their course, and have done with warmth and sunshine,–the hoary periwigs, I mean, of dandelions gone to seed.
May 11, 1838.–At Boston last week. Items:–A young man, with a small mustache, dyed brown, reddish from its original light color. He walks with an affected gait, his arms crooked outwards, treading much on his toes. His conversation is about the theatre, where he has a season ticket,–about an amateur who lately appeared there, and about actresses, with other theatrical scandal.–In the smoking-room, two checker and backgammon boards; the landlord a great player, seemingly a stupid man, but with considerable shrewdness and knowledge of the world.– F—-, the comedian, a stout, heavy-looking Englishman, of grave deportment, with no signs of wit or humor, yet aiming at both in conversation, in order to support his character. Very steady and regular in his life, and parsimonious in his disposition,–worth $50,000, made by his profession.–A clergyman, elderly, with a white neck-cloth, very unbecoming, an unworldly manner, unacquaintance with the customs of the house, and learning them in a childlike way. A ruffle to his shirt, crimped.–A gentleman, young, handsome, and sea-flushed, belonging to Oswego, New York, but just arrived in port from the Mediterranean: he inquires of me about the troubles in Canada, which were first beginning to make a noise when he left the country,–whether they are all over. I tell him all is finished, except the hanging of the prisoners. Then we talk over the matter, and I tell him the fates of the principal men,–some banished to New South Wales, one hanged, others in prison, others, conspicuous at first, now almost forgotten.–Apartments of private families in the hotel,–what sort of domesticity there may be in them; eating in public, with no board of their own. The gas that lights the rest of the house lights them also, in the chandelier from the ceiling.–A shabby-looking man, quiet, with spectacles, at first wearing an old, coarse brown frock, then appearing in a suit of elderly black, saying nothing unless spoken to, but talking intelligently when addressed. He is an editor, and I suppose printer, of a country paper. Among the guests, he holds intercourse with gentlemen of much more respectable appearance than himself, from the same part of the country.–Bill of fare; wines printed on the back, but nobody calls for a bottle. Chairs turned down for expected guests. Three-pronged steel forks. Cold supper from nine to eleven P.M. Great, round, mahogany table, in the sitting-room, covered with papers. In the morning, before and soon after breakfast, gentlemen reading the morning papers, while others wait for their chance, or try to pick out something from the papers of yesterday or longer ago. In the forenoon, the Southern papers are brought in, and thrown damp and folded on the table. The eagerness with which those who happen to be in the room start up and make prize of them. Play-bills, printed on yellow paper, laid upon the table. Towards evening comes the “Transcript.”
Thursday, April 27th.–I took a walk into the fields, and round our opposite hill, yesterday noon, but made no very remarkable observation. The frogs have begun their concerts, though not as yet with a full choir. I found no violets nor anemones, nor anything in the likeness of a flower, though I looked carefully along the shelter of the stone-walls, and in all spots apparently propitious. I ascended the hill, and had a wide prospect of a swollen river, extending around me in a semicircle of three or four miles, and rendering the view much finer than in summer, had there only been foliage. It seemed like the formation of a new world; for islands were everywhere emerging, and capes extending forth into the flood; and these tracts, which were thus won from the watery empire, were among the greenest in the landscape. The moment the deluge leaves them Nature asserts them to be her property by covering them with verdure; or perhaps the grass had been growing under the water. On the hill-top where I stood, the grass had scarcely begun to sprout; and I observed that even those places which looked greenest in the distance were but scantily grass-covered when I actually reached them. It was hope that painted them so bright.
Last evening we saw a bright light on the river, betokening that a boat’s party were engaged in spearing fish. It looked like a descended star,–like red Mars,–and, as the water was perfectly smooth, its gleam was reflected downward into the depths. It is a very picturesque sight. In the deep quiet of the night I suddenly heard the light and lively note of a bird from a neighboring tree,–a real song, such as those which greet the purple dawn, or mingle with the yellow sunshine. What could the little bird mean by pouring it forth at midnight? Probably the note gushed out from the midst of a dream, in which he fancied himself in Paradise with his mate; and, suddenly awakening, he found he was on a cold, leafless bough, with a New England mist penetrating through his feathers. That was a sad exchange of imagination for reality; but if he found his mate beside him, all was well.
This is another misty morning, ungenial in aspect, but kinder than it looks; for it paints the hills and valleys with a richer brush than the sunshine could. There is more verdure now than when I looked out of the window an hour ago. The willow-tree opposite my study window is ready to put forth its leaves. There are some objections to willows. It is not a dry and cleanly tree; it impresses me with an association of sliminess; and no trees, I think, are perfectly satisfactory, which have not a firm and hard texture of trunk and branches. But the willow is almost the earliest to put forth its leaves, and the last to scatter them on the ground; and during the whole winter its yellow twigs give it a sunny aspect, which is not without a cheering influence in a proper point of view. Our old house would lose much were this willow to be cut down, with its golden crown over the roof in winter, and its heap of summer verdure. The present Mr. Ripley planted it, fifty years ago, or thereabouts.
April 26th.–Here is another misty day, muffling the sun. The lilac-shrubs under my study window are almost in leaf. In two or three days more, I may put forth my hand and pluck a green bough. These lilacs appear to be very aged, and have lost the luxuriant foliage of their prime. Old age has a singular aspect in lilacs, rose-bushes, and other ornamental shrubs. It seems as if such things, as they grow only for beauty, ought to flourish in immortal youth, or at least to die before their decrepitude. They are trees of Paradise, and therefore not naturally subject to decay; but have lost their birthright by being transplanted hither. There is a kind of ludicrous unfitness in the idea of a venerable rose-bush; and there is something analogous to this in human life. Persons who can only be graceful and ornamental–who can give the world nothing but flowers–should die young, and never be seen with gray hairs and wrinkles, any more than the flower-shrubs with mossy bark and scanty foliage, like the lilacs under my window. Not that beauty is not worthy of immortality. Nothing else, indeed, is worthy of it; and thence, perhaps, the sense of impropriety when we see it triumphed over by time. Apple-trees, on the other hand, grow old without reproach. Let them live as long as they may, and contort themselves in whatever fashion they please, they are still respectable, even if they afford us only an apple or two in a season, or none at all. Human flower-shrubs, if they will grow old on earth, should, beside their lovely blossoms, bear some kind of fruit that will satisfy earthly appetites; else men will not be satisfied that the moss should gather on them.
Winter and Spring are now struggling for the mastery in my study; and I yield somewhat to each, and wholly to neither. The window is open, and there is a fire in the stove. The day when the window is first thrown open should be an epoch in the year; but I have forgotten to record it. Seventy or eighty springs have visited this old house; and sixty of them found old Dr. Ripley here,–not always old, it is true, but gradually getting wrinkles and gray hairs, and looking more and more the picture of winter. But he was no flower-shrub, but one of those fruit-trees or timber-trees that acquire a grace with their old age. Last Spring found this house solitary for the first time since it was built; and now again she peeps into our open windows and finds new faces here. . . .
It is remarkable how much uncleanness winter brings with it, or leaves behind it, . . . The yard, garden, and avenue, which should be my department, require a great amount of labor. The avenue is strewed with withered leaves,–the whole crop, apparently, of last year,–some of which are now raked into heaps; and we intend to make a bonfire of them. . . –There are quantities of decayed branches, which one tempest after another has flung down, black and rotten. In the garden are the old cabbages which we did not think worth gathering last autumn, and the dry bean-vines, and the withered stalks of the asparagus-bed; in short, all the wrecks of the departed year,–its mouldering relics, its dry bones. It is a pity that the world cannot be made over anew every spring. Then, in the yard, there are the piles of firewood, which I ought to have sawed and thrown into the shed long since, but which will cumber the earth, I fear, till June, at least. Quantities of chips are strewn about, and on removing them we find the yellow stalks of grass sprouting underneath. Nature does her best to beautify this disarray. The grass springs up most industriously, especially in sheltered and sunny angles of the buildings, or round the doorsteps,–a locality which seems particularly favorable to its growth; for it is already high enough to bend over and wave the wind. I was surprised to observe that some weeds (especially a plant that stains the fingers with its yellow juice) had lived, and retained their freshness and sap as perfectly as in summer, through all the frosts and snows of last winter. I saw them, the last green thing, in the autumn; and here they are again, the first in the spring.
April 25th. Spring is advancing, sometimes with sunny days, and sometimes, as is the case now, with chill, moist, sullen ones. There is an influence in the season that makes it almost impossible for me to bring my mind down to literary employment; perhaps because several months’ pretty constant work has exhausted that species of energy,–perhaps because in spring it is more natural to labor actively than to think. But my impulse now is to be idle altogether,–to lie in the sun, or wander about and look at the revival of Nature from her death-like slumber, or to be borne down the current of the river in my boat. If I had wings, I would gladly fly; yet would prefer to be wafted along by a breeze, sometimes alighting on a patch of green grass, then gently whirled away to a still sunnier spot. . . . Oh, how blest should I be were there nothing to do! Then I would watch every inch and hair’s-breadth of the progress of the season; and not a leaf should put itself forth, in the vicinity of our old mansion, without my noting it. But now, with the burden of a continual task upon me, I have not freedom of mind to make such observations. I merely see what is going on in a very general way. The snow, which, two or three weeks ago, covered hill and valley, is now diminished to one or two solitary specks in the visible landscape; though doubtless there are still heaps of it in the shady places in the woods. There have been no violent rains to carry it off: it has diminished gradually, inch by inch, and day after day; and I observed, along the roadside, that the green blades of grass had sometimes sprouted on the very edge of the snowdrift the moment that the earth was uncovered.
The pastures and grass-fields have not yet a general effect of green; nor have they that cheerless brown tint which they wear in later autumn, when vegetation has entirely ceased. There is now a suspicion of verdure,–the faint shadow of it,–but not the warm reality. Sometimes, in a happy exposure,–there is one such tract across the river, the carefully cultivated mowing-field, in front of an old red homestead,–such patches of land wear a beautiful and tender green, which no other season will equal; because, let the grass be green as it may hereafter, it will not be so set off by surrounding barrenness. The trees in our orchard, and elsewhere, have as yet no leaves; yet to the most careless eye they appear full of life and vegetable blood. It seems as if, by one magic touch, they might instantaneously put forth all their foliage, and the wind, which now sighs through their naked branches, might all at once find itself impeded by innumerable leaves. This sudden development would be scarcely more wonderful than the gleam of verdure which often brightens, in a moment, as it were, along the slope of a bank or roadside. It is like a gleam of sunlight. Just now it was brown, like the rest of the scenery: look again, and there is an apparition of green grass. The Spring, no doubt, comes onward with fleeter footsteps, because Winter has lingered so long that, at best, she can hardly retrieve half the allotted term of her reign.
The river, this season, has encroached farther on the land than it has been known to do for twenty years past. It has formed along its course a succession of lakes, with a current through the midst. My boat has lain at the bottom of the orchard, in very convenient proximity to the house. It has borne me over stone fences; and, a few days ago, Ellery Channing and I passed through two rails into the great northern road, along which we paddled for some distance. The trees have a singular appearance in the midst of waters. The curtailment of their trunks quite destroys the proportions of the whole tree; and we become conscious of a regularity and propriety in the forms of Nature, by the effect of this abbreviation. The waters are now subsiding, but gradually. Islands become annexed to the mainland, and other islands emerge from the flood, and will soon, likewise, be connected with the continent. We have seen on a small scale the process of the deluge, and can now witness that of the reappearance of the earth.
Crows visited us long before the snow was off. They seem mostly to have departed now, or else to have betaken themselves to remote depths of the woods, which they haunt all summer long. Ducks came in great numbers, and many sportsmen went in pursuit of them along the river; but they also have disappeared. Gulls come up from seaward, and soar high overhead, flapping their broad wings in the upper sunshine. They are among the most picturesque birds that I am acquainted with; indeed, quite the most so, because the manner of their flight makes them almost stationary parts of the landscape. The imagination has time to rest upon them; they have not flitted away in a moment. You go up among the clouds, and lay hold of these soaring gulls, and repose with them upon the sustaining atmosphere. The smaller birds, –the birds that build their nests in our trees, and sing for us at morning-red,–I will not describe.. . But I must mention the great companies of blackbirds–more than the famous “four-and-twenty” who were baked in a pie–that congregate on the tops of contiguous trees, and vociferate with all the clamor of a turbulent political meeting. Politics must certainly be the subject of such a tumultuous debate; but still there is a melody in each individual utterance, and a harmony in the general effect. Mr. Thoreau tells me that these noisy assemblages consist of three different species of blackbirds; but I forget the other two. Robins have been long among us, and swallows have more recently arrived.