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world's dignitaries by such means, to step aside out of the
narrow circle in which his claims are recognized, and to find
how utterly devoid of significance, beyond that circle, is all
that he achieves, and all he aims at. I know not that I
especially needed the lesson, either in the way of warning or
rebuke; but, at any rate, I learned it thoroughly; nor, it gives
me pleasure to reflect, did the truth, as it came home to my
perception, ever cost me a pang, or require to be thrown off in
a sigh. In the way of literary talk, it is true, the Naval Officer
–an excellent fellow, who came into office with me, and went
out only a little later–would often engage me in a discussion
about one or the other of his favorite topics, Napoleon or
Shakspeare. The Collector's junior clerk, too,–a young gen-
tleman who, it was whispered, occasionally covered a sheet of
Uncle Sam's letter-paper with what, (at the distance of a few
yards,) looked very much like poetry,–used now and then to
speak to me of books, as matters with which I might possibly
be conversant. This was my all of lettered intercourse; and it
was quite sufficient for my necessities.

No longer seeking nor caring that my name should be bla-
zoned abroad on title-pages, I smiled to think that it had now
another kind of vogue. The Custom-House marker imprinted
it, with a stencil and black paint, on pepper-bags, and baskets
of anatto, and cigar-boxes, and bales of all kinds of dutiable
merchandise, in testimony that these commodities had paid the
impost, and gone regularly through the office. Borne on such
queer vehicle of fame, a knowledge of my existence, so far
as a name conveys it, was carried where it had never been
before, and, I hope, will never go again.

But the past was not dead. Once in a great while, the
thoughts, that had seemed so vital and so active, yet had been
put to rest so quietly, revived again. One of the most remark-
able occasions, when the habit of bygone days awoke in me,
was that which brings it within the law of literary propriety to
offer the public the sketch which I am now writing.

The Scarlet Letter > Page
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