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THE CUSTOM-HOUSE

years, they followed the sea; a gray-headed shipmaster, in each
generation, retiring from the quarter-deck to the homestead,
while a boy of fourteen took the hereditary place before the
mast, confronting the salt spray and the gale, which had
blustered against his sire and grandsire. The boy, also, in due
time, passed from the forecastle to the cabin, spent a tem-
pestuous manhood, and returned from his world-wanderings,
to grow old, and die, and mingle his dust with the natal
earth. This long connection of a family with one spot, as its
place of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the
human being and the locality, quite independent of any
charm in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround
him. It is not love, but instinct. The new inhabitant–who
came himself from a foreign land, or whose father or grand-
father came–has little claim to be called a Salemite; he has
no conception of the oyster-like tenacity with which an old
settler, over whom his third century is creeping, clings to the
spot where his successive generations have been imbedded. It
is no matter that the place is joyless for him; that he is weary
of the old wooden houses, the mud and dust, the dead level of
site and sentiment, the chill east wind, and the chillest of
social atmospheres;–all these, and whatever faults besides
he may see or imagine, are nothing to the purpose. The spell
survives, and just as powerfully as if the natal spot were an
earthly paradise. So has it been in my case. I felt it almost
as a destiny to make Salem my home; so that the mould of
features and cast of character which had all along been
familiar here–ever, as one representative of the race lay down
in his grave, another assuming, as it were, his sentry-march
along the Main Street–might still in my little day be seen
and recognized in the old town. Nevertheless, this very
sentiment is an evidence that the connection, which has
become an unhealthy one, should at last be severed. Human
nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be
planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in

The Scarlet Letter > Page
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