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THE CUSTOM-HOUSE

It is my belief, however, that, had I attempted a different
order of composition, my faculties would not have been found
so pointless and inefficacious. I might, for instance, have con-
tented myself with writing out the narratives of a veteran
shipmaster, one of the Inspectors, whom I should be most
ungrateful not to mention; since scarcely a day passed that he
did not stir me to laughter and admiration by his marvellous
gifts as a story-teller. Could I have preserved the picturesque
force of his style, and the humorous coloring which nature
taught him how to throw over his descriptions, the result, I
honestly believe, would have been something new in litera-
ture. Or I might readily have found a more serious task. It was
a folly, with the materiality of this daily life pressing so in-
trusively upon me, to attempt to fling myself back into an-
other age; or to insist on creating the semblance of a world out
of airy matter, when, at every moment, the impalpable beauty
of my soap-bubble was broken by the rude contact of some ac-
tual circumstance. The wiser effort would have been, to
diffuse thought and imagination through the opaque su-
bstance of to-day, and thus to make it a bright transparency; to
spiritualize the burden that began to weigh so heavily; to seek,
resolutely, the true and indestructible value that lay hidden
in the petty and wearisome incidents, and ordinary characters,
with which I was now conversant. The fault was mine. The
page of life that was spread out before me seemed dull and
commonplace, only because I had not fathomed its deeper im-
port. A better book than I shall ever write was there; leaf after
leaf presenting itself to me, just as it was written out by the
reality of the flitting hour, and vanishing as fast as written,
only because my brain wanted the insight and my hand the
cunning to transcribe it. At some future day, it may be, I shall
remember a few scattered fragments and broken paragraphs,
and write them down, and find the letters turn to gold upon the page.

These perceptions have come too late. At the instant, I was

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