Nineteen ideas and images from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for December 6th, 1837

December 6th.–A fairy tale about chasing Echo to her hiding-place. Echo is the voice of a reflection in a mirror,

A house to be built over a natural spring of inflammable gas, and to be constantly illuminated therewith. What moral could be drawn from this? It is carburetted hydrogen gas, and is cooled from a soft shale or slate, which is sometimes bituminous, and contains more or less carbonate of lime. It appears in the vicinity of Lockport and Niagara Falls, and elsewhere in New York. I believe it indicates coal. At Fredonia, the whole village is lighted by it. Elsewhere, a farm-house was lighted by it, and no other fuel used in the coldest weather.

Gnomes, or other mischievous little fiends, to be represented as burrowing in the hollow teeth of some person who has subjected himself to their power. It should be a child’s story. This should be one of many modes of petty torment. They should be contrastedwith beneficent fairies, who minister to the pleasures of the good.

Some very famous jewel or other thing, much talked of all over the world. Some person to meet with it, and get possession of it in some unexpected manner, amid homely circumstances.

To poison a person or a party of persons with the sacramental wine.

A cloud in the shape of an old woman kneeling, with arms extended towards the moon.

On being transported to strange scenes, we feel as if all were unreal. This is but the perception of the true unreality of earthly things, made evident by the want of congruity between ourselves and them. By and by we become mutually adapted, and the perception is lost.

An old looking-glass. Somebody finds out the secret of making all the images that have been reflected in it pass back again across its surface.

Our Indian races having reared no monuments, like the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, when they have disappeared from the earth their history will appear a fable, and they misty phantoms.

A woman to sympathize with all emotions, but to have none of her own.

A portrait of a person in New England to be recognized as of the same person represented by a portrait in Old England. Having distinguished himself there, he had suddenly vanished, and had never been heardof till he was thus discovered to be identical with a distinguished man in New England.

Men of cold passions have quick eyes.

A virtuous but giddy girl to attempt to play a trick on a man. He sees what she is about, and contrives matters so that she throws herself completely into his power, and is ruined,–all in jest.

A letter, written a century or more ago, but which has never yet been unsealed.

A partially insane man to believe himself the Provincial Governor or other great official of Massachusetts. The scene might be the Province House.

A dreadful secret to be communicated to several people of various characters,–grave or gay, and they all to become insane, according to their characters, by the influence of the secret.

Stories to be told of a certain person’s appearance in public, of his having been seen in various situations, and of his making visits in private circles; but finally, on looking for this person, to come upon his old grave and mossy tombstone.

The influence of a peculiar mind, in close communion with another, to drive the latter to insanity.

To look at a beautiful girl, and picture all the lovers, in different situations, whose hearts are centred upon her.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for December 6th, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

Three ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

It seems a greater pity that an accomplished worker with the hand should perish prematurely, than a person of great intellect; because intellectual arts may be cultivated in the next world, but not physical ones.

To trace out the influence of a frightful and disgraceful crime in debasing and destroying a character naturally high and noble, the guilty person being alone conscious of the crime.

A man, virtuous in his general conduct, but committing habitually some monstrous crime,–as murder,–and doing this without the sense of guilt, but with a peaceful conscience,–habit, probably, reconciling him to it; but something (for instance, discovery) occurs to make him sensible of his enormity. His horror then.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Passages from the American Note-Books.

Five ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

Some man of powerful character to command a person, morally subjected to him, to perform some act. The commanding person suddenly to die; and, for all the rest of his life, the subjected one continues to perform that act.

“Solomon dies during the building of the temple, but his body remains leaning on a staff, and overlooking the workmen, as if it were alive.”

A tri-weekly paper, to be called the Tertian Ague.

Subject for a picture,–Satan’s reappearance in Pandemonium, shining out from a mist with “shape star-bright.”

Five points of Theology,–Five Points at New York.

From Passages from the American Note-Books. Stray notes of 1842.

Five Ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

  1. For the virtuoso’s collection,–the pen with which Faust signed away his salvation, with a drop of blood dried in it.
  2. An article on newspaper advertisements,–a country newspaper, methinks, rather than a city one.
  3. An eating-house, where all the dishes served out, even to the bread and salt, shall be poisoned with the adulterations that are said to be practised. Perhaps Death himself might be the cook.
  4. Personify the century,–talk of its present middle age, of its youth, and its adventures and prospects.
  5. An uneducated countryman, supposing he had a live frog in his stomach, applied himself to the study of medicine in order to find a cure for this disease; and he became a profound physician. Thus misfortune, physical or moral, may be the means of educating and elevating us.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

“To have ice in one’s blood” (And other ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books)

  1. “A story there passeth of an Indian king that sent unto Alexander a fair woman, fed with aconite and other poisons, with this intent complexionally to destroy him!” –Sir T. Browne.
  2. Dialogues of the unborn, like dialogues of the dead,–or between two young children.
  3. A mortal symptom for a person being to lose his own aspect and to take the family lineaments, which were hidden deep in the healthful visage. Perhaps a seeker might thus recognize the man he had sought, after long intercourse with him unknowingly.
  4. Some moderns to build a fire on Ararat with the remnants of the ark.
  5. Two little boats of cork, with a magnet in one and steel in the other.
  6. To have ice in one’s blood.
  7. To make a story of all strange and impossible things,–as the Salamander, the Phoenix.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

Nine Figments from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Notebook

  1. An ancient wineglass (Miss Ingersol’s), long-stalked, with a small, cup-like bowl, round which is wreathed a branch of grape-vine, with a rich cluster of grapes, and leaves spread out. There is also some kind of a bird flying. The whole is excellently cut or engraved.
  2. In the Duke of Buckingham’s comedy, “The Chances,” Don Frederic says of Don John (they are two noble Spanish gentlemen), “One bed contains us ever.”
  3. A person, while awake and in the business of life, to think highly of another, and place perfect confidence in him, but to be troubled with dreams in which this seeming friend appears to act the part of a most deadly enemy. Finally it is discovered that the dream-character is the true one. The explanation would be–the soul’s instinctive perception.
  4. Pandora’s box for a child’s story.
  5. Moonlight is sculpture; sunlight is painting.
  6. “A person to look back on a long life ill-spent, and to picture forth a beautiful life which he would live, if he could be permitted to begin his life over again. Finally to discover that he had only been dreaming of old age,–that he was really young, and could live such a life as he had pictured.”
  7. A newspaper, purporting to be published in a family, and satirizing the political and general world by advertisements, remarks on domestic affairs,–advertisement of a lady’s lost thimble, etc.
  8. L. H—-. She was unwilling to die, because she had no friends to meet her in the other world. Her little son F. being very ill, on his recovery she confessed a feeling of disappointment, having supposed that he would have gone before, and welcomed her into heaven!
  9. H. L. C—- heard from a French Canadian a story of a young couple in Acadie. On their marriage day, all the men of the Province were summoned to assemble in the church to hear a proclamation. When assembled, they were all seized and shipped off to be distributed through New England,–among them the new bridegroom. His bride set off in search of him,–wandered about New England all her lifetime, and at last, when she was old, she found her bridegroom on his death-bed. The shock was so great that it killed her likewise.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

Five Story Ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

  1. All the dead that had ever been drowned in a certain lake to arise.
  2. Character of a man who, in himself and his external circumstances, shall be equally and totally false: his fortune resting on baseless credit,–his patriotism assumed,–his domestic affections, his honor and honesty, all a sham. His own misery in the midst of it,–it making the whole universe, heaven and earth alike, an unsubstantial mockery to him.
  3. Dr. Johnson’s penance in Uttoxeter Market. A man who does penance in what might appear to lookers-on the most glorious and triumphal circumstance of his life. Each circumstance of the career of an apparently successful man to be a penance and torture to him on account of some fundamental error in early life.
  4. A person to catch fire-flies, and try to kindle his household fire with them. It would be symbolical of something.
  5. Thanksgiving at the Worcester Lunatic Asylum. A ball and dance of the inmates in the evening,–a furious lunatic dancing with the principal’s wife. Thanksgiving in an almshouse might make a better sketch.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

Ten Ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

  1. A tree, tall and venerable, to be said by tradition to have been the staff of some famous man, who happened to thrust it into the ground, where it took root.
  2. A fellow without money, having a hundred and seventy miles to go, fastened a chain and padlock to his legs, and lay down to sleep in a field. He was apprehended, and carried gratis to a jail in the town whither he desired to go.
  3. An old volume in a large library,–every one to be afraid to unclasp and open it, because it was said to be a book of magic.
  4. A ghost seen by moonlight; when the moon was out, it would shine and melt through the airy substance of the ghost, as through a cloud.
  5. A scold and a blockhead,–brimstone and wood,–a good match.
  6. To make one’s own reflection in a mirror the subject of a story.
  7. In a dream to wander to some place where may be heard the complaints of all the miserable on earth.
  8. Some common quality or circumstance that should bring together people the most unlike in all other respects, and make a brotherhood and sisterhood of them,–the rich and the proud finding themselves in the same category with the mean and the despised.
  9. A person to consider himself as the prime mover of certain remarkable events, but to discover that his actions have not contributed in the least thereto. Another person to be the cause, without suspecting it.
  10. A person or family long desires some particular good. At last it comes in such profusion as to be the great pest of their lives.

—Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books. (See also: Twenty ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books)