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THE SCARLET LETTER

of the writer's own nature, and complete his circle of existence
by bringing him into communion with it. It is scarcely deco-
rous, however, to speak all, even where we speak imperson-
ally. But–as thoughts are frozen and utterance benumbed,
unless the speaker stand in some true relation with his audi-
ence–it may be pardonable to imagine that a friend, a kind
and apprehensive, though not the closest friend, is listening to
our talk; and then, a native reserve being thawed by this genial
consciousness, we may prate of the circumstances that lie
around us, and even of ourself, but still keep the inmost Me
behind its veil. To this extent and within these limits, an au-
thor, methinks, may be autobiographical, without violating
either the reader's rights or his own.

It will be seen, likewise, that this Custom-House sketch has
a certain propriety, of a kind always recognized in literature,
as explaining how a large portion of the following pages came
into my possession, and as offering proofs of the authenticity of
a narrative therein contained. This, in fact,–a desire to put
myself in my true position as editor, or very little more, of the
most prolix among the tales that make up my volume,–this,
and no other, is my true reason for assuming a personal rela-
tion with the public. In accomplishing the main purpose, it
has appeared allowable, by a few extra touches, to give a faint
representation of a mode of life not heretofore described, to-
gether with some of the characters that move in it, among
whom the author happened to make one.

In my native town of Salem, at the head of what, half a
century ago, in the days of old King Derby, was a bustling
wharf,–but which is now burdened with decayed wooden
warehouses, and exhibits few or no symptoms of commercial
life; except, perhaps, a bark or brig, half-way down its melan-
choly length, discharging hides; or, nearer at hand, a Nova
Scotia schooner, pitching out her cargo of firewood,–at the
head, I say, of this dilapidated wharf, which the tide often

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