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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, Volume I

By Julian Hawthorne, 1884

Chapter 9

Notes for Stories and Essays


A sketch,--the devouring of the old country residences by the overgrown monster of a city. For instance, Mr. Beekman's ancestral residence was originally several miles from the city of New York; but the pavements kept creeping nearer and nearer; till now the house is removed, and a street runs directly through what was once its hall.

An essay on the various kinds of death, together with the just before and just after.

The majesty of death to be exemplified in a beggar, who, after being seen humble and cringing, in the streets of a city, for many years, at length, by some means or other, gets admittance into a rich man's mansion, and there dies,--assuming state, and striking awe into the breasts of those who had looked down upon him.

To write a dream which shall resemble the real course of a dream, with all its inconsistency, its strange transformations, which are all taken as a matter of course; its eccentricities and aimlessness,--with nevertheless a leading idea running through the whole. Up to this old age of the world, no such thing has ever been written.

With an emblematic divining-rod to seek for emblematic gold,--that is, for truth; for what of heaven is left on earth.

The emerging from their lurking-places of evil characters on some occasions suited to them,--they having been quite unknown to the world hitherto. For instance, the French Revolution brought out such wretches.

The advantages of a longer life than is allotted to mortals: the many things that might then be accomplished, to which one lifetime is inadequate, and for which the time spent is therefore lost; a successor being unable to take up the task where we drop it.

George First promised his mistress, the Duchess of Kendal, that, if possible, he would pay her a visit after death. Accordingly, a large raven flew into the window of her villa at Isleworth. She believed it to be his soul, and treated it ever after with all respect and tenderness, till either she or the bird died.

The history of an almshouse in a country village from the era of its foundation downwards,--a record of the remarkable occupants of it, and extracts from the interesting portions of its annals. The rich of one generation might, in the next, seek a home there, either in their own persons or in those of their representatives. Perhaps the son and heir of the founder might have no better refuge. There should be occasional sunshine let into the story; for instance, the good fortune of some nameless infant, educated there, and discovered finally to be the child of wealthy parents.

Great expectations to be entertained, in the allegorical Grub Street, of the appearance of the Great American Writer,--or a search-warrant to be made out to catch a Poet. On the former supposition, he shall be discovered under some most unlikely form--or shall be supposed to have lived and died unrecognized.

An old man to promise a youth a treasure of gold, and to keep his promise by teaching him practically the Golden Rule.

A valuable jewel to be buried in the grave of some beloved person, or thrown over with a corpse at sea, or deposited under the foundation-stone of an edifice, and to be afterwards met with by the former owner in the possession of some one.

In moods of heavy despondency, one feels as if it would be delightful to sink down in some quiet spot, and lie there forever, letting the soil gradually accumulate and form a little hillock over us, and the grass and flowers gather over it. At such times death is too much of an event to be wished for,--we have not spirits to encounter it, but choose to pass out of existence in this sluggish way.

A dream, the other night, that the world had become dissatisfied with the inaccurate manner in which facts are reported, and had employed me, at a salary of a thousand dollars, to relate things of importance exactly as they happen.

A person who has all the qualities of a friend, except that he invariably fails you at a pinch.

To find out all sorts of ridiculous employments for people, who have nothing better to do; as, to comb out cows' tails, shave goats, hoard up the seeds of weeds, etc., etc.

Our most intimate friend is not he to whom we show the worst, but the best of our nature.

Some men have no right to perform great deeds or to think high thoughts; and when they do so, it is a kind of humbug. They had better keep within their own propriety.

A young woman in England poisoned by an East Indian barbed dart, which her brother had brought home as a curiosity.

"He looked as if he had been standing up thirty years against a northeast storm."--Description by Pike of an old mate of a vessel.

Death possesses a good deal of real estate; pleasure-grounds, too.

Words,--so innocent and powerless are they, as standing in a dictionary; how potent for good and evil they become to one who knows how to combine them!

Weight, July 4, 1848, one hundred and seventy eight pounds; greater than at any former period.

A man arriving at the extreme point of old age grows young again at the same pace at which he had grown old,--returning upon his path throughout the whole of life, and thus taking the reverse view of matters. Methinks it would give rise to some odd concatenations.

A story, the principal personage of which shall seem always on the point of entering on the scene, but shall never appear.

The same children who make the snow image shall plant dry sticks, and they shall take root and grow.

A ray of sunshine searching for an old blood-spot through a lonely room.

To contrive a story of a man building a house, and locating it over the pit of Acheron. The fumes of hell shall breathe up from the furnace that warms it, and over which Satan himself shall preside. Devils and damned souls shall continually be rising through the registers. Possibly an angel may now and then peep through the ventilators.

A woman's wedding-ring imbedded into the flesh after years of matrimony. Reminiscences of the slender finger on which it at first slid so easily.

Supposing a man to weigh one hundred and forty pounds when married, and after marriage to increase to two hundred and eighty pounds, then, surely, he is half a bachelor, especially if the union be not a spiritual one.

For a child's story, one of baby's rides in her little carriage, drawn by the other two children.

Miss Rebecca Pennell says that in her childhood she used to see a certain old Orthodox minister, dressed in antique style, with his hair powdered and in a queue, a three-cornered hat, knee-breeches, etc. He looked so much unlike everybody else, that it never occurred to her that he was a man, but some other sort of a contrivance.

A spring in Kentucky,--the water certain death to all drinkers.

A man of coarse, vulgar nature breaks his leg or his neck. What is he then? A vulgar fraction.

"The tea makes that little bit of sun crazy," quoth Julian, the other morning, looking at the quivering on the wall of the reflection of the sunshine from a cup of coffee, whenever the jar of the table shook it.

The sunbeam that comes through a round hole in the shutter of a darkened room, where a dead man sits in solitude.

For a child's story,--imagine all sorts of wonderful playthings.

The wizard, Michael Scott, used to give a feast to his friends, the dishes at which were brought from the kitchens of various princes in Europe, by devils, at his command. "Now we will try a dish from the King of France's kitchen," etc. A modern sketch might take a hint from this, and the dishes be brought from various restaurants.

Annals of a kitchen.

A modern magician to make the semblance of a human being, with two laths for legs, a pumpkin for a head, etc.--of the most modest and meagre materials. Then a tailor helps him to finish his work, and transforms this scarecrow into quite a fashionable figure. At the end of the story, after deceiving the world for a long time, the spell should be broken, and the gay dandy be discovered to be nothing but a suit of clothes, with these few sticks inside of it. All through his seeming existence as a human being, there shall be some characteristics, some tokens, that, to the man of close observation and insight, betray him to be a mere thing of laths and clothes, without heart, soul, or intellect. And so this wretched old thing shall become the symbol of a large class.

An angel comes down from heaven, commissioned to gather up, put into a basket, and carry away, everything good that is not improved by mankind, for whose benefit it was intended. She distributes the articles where they will be appreciated.

The first manufacture of the kind of candy called Gibraltar Rock, for a child's story. To be told in the romantic, mystic, marvellous style.

Corwin is going to Lynn; Oliver proposes to walk thither with him. "No," says Corwin, "I don't want you. You take too long steps; or, if you take short ones, 't is all hypocrisy. And, besides, you keep humming all the time."

Captain Burchmore tells a story of an immense turtle which he saw at sea, on a voyage to Batavia, so long that the lookout at the masthead mistook it for a rock. The ship passed close to him, and he was apparently longer than the long-boat, with a head "bigger than any dog's you ever see," and great prickles on his back a foot long. Aniving at Batavia, he told the story; and an old pilot exclaimed, "What! have you seen Bellysore Tom?" It seems the pilots had been acquainted with this turtle as much as twelve years, and always found him in the same latitude. They never did him any injury, but were accustomed to throw him great pieces of meat, which he received in good part, so that there was a mutual friendship hetween the pilots and Bellysore Torn. Old Lee, in confirmation of the story, affirmed that he had often heard other ship-masters speak of the same monster. But he being a notorious liar, and Captain Burchmore an unconscionable spinner of long yarns and travellers' tales, the evidence is by no means perfect. The pilots estimated his length at not less than twenty feet.

A disquisition, or a discussion between two or more persons, on the manner in which the Wandering Jew has spent his life,--one period, perhaps, in wild carnal debauchery; then trying over and over again to grasp domestic happiness; then a soldier; then a statesman, etc.; at last, realizing some truth.

In the eyes of a young child, or other innocent person, the image of a cherub or angel to be seen peeping out; in those of a vicious person, a devil.

A moral philosopher to buy a slave, or otherwise get possession of a human being, and to use him for the sake of experiment, by trying the operation of a certain vice on him.

The human heart to be allegorized as a cavern; at the entrance there is sunshine, and flowers growing about it. You step within, but a short distance, and find yourself surrounded with a terrible gloom, and monsters of divers kinds; it seems like hell itself. You are bewildered, and wander long without hope. At last, a light strikes upon you. You press towards it, and find yourself in a region that seems, in some sort, to reproduce the flowers and sunny beauty of the entrance,--but all perfect. These are the depths of the heart, or of human nature, bright and beautiful; the gloom and terror may lie deep, but deeper still is this eternal beauty.

An examination of wits and poets at a police-court, and they to be sentenced by the Judge to various penalties or fines, the house of correction, whipping, etc., according to the moral offences of which they were guilty.

To consider a piece of gold as a sort of talisman, or as containing within itself all the forms of enjoyment that it can purchase, so that they might appear, by some fantastical chemical process, as visions.

To typify our mature review of our early prospects and delusions, by representing a person as wandering, in manhood, through and among the various castles in the air that he had raised in his youth, and describing how they look to him,--their dilapidations, etc. Possibly some small portion of these structures may have a certain reality, and suffice him to build a humble dwelling to pass his life in.

The hand of one person may express more than the face of another.

When the heart is full of care, or the mind much occupied, the summer and the sunshine and the moonlight are but a gleam and glimmer,--a vague dream which does not come within us, but only makes itself imperfectly perceptible on the outside of us.

People who write about themselves and their feelings, as Byron did, may be said to serve up their own hearts, duly spiced, and with brain sauce, out of their own heads, as a repast for the public.

Nature sometimes displays a little tenderness for our vanity, but is never careful of our pride. She is willing that we should look foolish in the eyes of the others, but keeps our little nonsensicalities from ourselves.

In a grim, weird story, a figure of a gay, laughing, handsome youth, or a young lady, all at once, in a natural, unconcerned way, takes off its face like a mask, and shows the grinning, bare skeleton face beneath.

To sit down in a solitary place (or a busy and bustling one, if you please) and await such little events as may happen, or observe such noticeable points as the eyes fall upon around you. For instance, I sat down to-day, at about ten o'clock in the forenoon, in Sleepy Hollow,--a shallow space scooped out among the woods, which surround it on all sides, it being pretty nearly circular, or oval, and two or three hundred yards in diameter. The present season, a thriving field of Indian corn, now in its most perfect growth, and tasselled out, occupies nearly half the hollow; and it is like the lap of bounteous Nature, filled with breadstuff. On one verge of the hollow, skirting it, is a terraced pathway, broad enough for a wheel-track, overshadowed with oaks, stretching their long, knotted, rude, rough arms between earth and sky; the gray skeletons, as you look upward, are strikingly prominent amid the green foliage. Likewise there are chestnuts, growing up in a more regular and pyramidal shape; white pines also; and a shrubbery composed of the shoots of all these trees, overspreading and softening the bank on which the parent stems are growing;--these latter being intermingled with coarse grass. Observe the pathway; it is strewn over with little bits of dry twigs and decayed branches, and the brown oak leaves of last year, that have been moistened by snow and rain, and whirled about by winds, since their departed verdure; the needle-like leaves of the pine, that we never noticed in falling,--that fall, yet never leave the tree bare; and with these are pebbles, the remains of what was once a gravelled surface, but which the soil accumulating from the decay of leaves, and washing down from the bank, has now almost covered. The sunshine comes down on the pathway with the bright glow of noon, at certain points; in other places there is a shadow as deep as the glow; but along the greater portion sunshine glimmers through shadow, and shadow effaces sunshine, imaging that pleasant mood of mind where gayety and pensiveness intermingle. A bird is chirping overhead among the branches, but exactly whereabout, you seek in vain to determine; indeed, you hear the rustle of the leaves, as he continually changes his position. A little sparrow now hops into view, alighting on the slenderest twigs, and seemingly delighting in the swinging and heaving motion, which his slight substance communicates to them; but he is not the loquacious bird whose voice still comes, eager and busy, from his hidden whereabout. Insects are fluttering about. The cheerful, sunny hum of flies is altogether summer-like, and so gladsome that you pardon them their intrusiveness and impertinence, which continually impels them to fly against your face, to alight upon your hands, and to buzz in your very ear, as if they wished to get into your head, among your most secret thoughts. In fact, a fly is the most impertinent and indelicate thing in creation,--the very type and moral of human spirits whom one occasionally meets with, and who perhaps, after an existence troublesome and vexatious to all with whom they come in contact, have been doomed to reappear in this congenial shape. Here is one intent upon alighting on my nose. In a room, now,--in a human habitation,--I could find in my conscience to put him to death; but here we have intruded upon his own domain, which he holds in common with all the children of earth and air, and we have no right to slay him on his own ground. Now we look about us more minutely, and observe that the acorn-cups of last year are strewn plentifully on the bank and on the path; there is always pleasure in examining an acorn-cup, perhaps associated with fairy banquets, where they are said to compose the table-service. Here, too, are those balls which grow as excrescences on the leaves of the oak, aud which young kittens love so well to play with, rolling them on the carpet. We see mosses, likewise, growing on the banks, in as great variety as the trees of the wood. And how strange is the gradual process with which we detect objects that are right before the eyes! Here now are whortleberries, ripe and black, growing actually within reach of my hand, yet unseen till this moment. Were we to sit here all day, a week, a month, and doubtless a lifetime, objects would thus still be presenting themselves as new, though there would seem to be no reason why we should not have detected them at the first moment.

Now a catbird is mewing at no great distance. Then the shadow of a bird flitted across a sunny spot: there is a peculiar impressiveness in this mode of being made acquainted with the flight of a bird; it affects the mind more than if the eye had actually seen it. As we look round to catch a glimpse of the winged creature, we behold the living blue of the sky, and the brilliant disc of the sun, broken and made tolerable to the eye by the intervening foliage. Now, when you are not thinking of it, the fragrance of the white pines is suddenly wafted to you by an almost imperceptible breeze, which has begun to stir. Now the breeze is the gentlest sigh imaginable, yet with a spiritual potency, insomuch that it seems to penetrate, with its mild, ethereal coolness, through the outward clay, and breathe upon the spirit itself, which shivers with gentle delight. Now the breeze strengthens, so much as to shake all the leaves, making them rustle sharply; but it has lost its most ethereal power. And now, again, the shadows of the boughs lie as motionless as if they were painted on the pathway. Now, in the stillness, is heard the long, melancholy note of a bird, complaining alone. of some wrong or sorrow that man, or her own kind, or the immitigable doom of mortal affairs, has inflicted upon her, the complaining but unresisting sufferer. And now, all of a sudden, we hear the sharp, shrill chirrup of a red squirrel, angry, it seems, with somebody, perhaps with ourselves, for having intruded into what he is pleased to consider his own domain. And, hark terrible to the ear, here is the minute but intense hum of the mosquito! Instinct prevails over all the nonsense of sentiment; we crush him at once, and there is his grim and grisly corpse, the ugliest object in nature. This incident has disturbed our tranquillity. In truth, the whole insect tribe, so far as we can judge, are made more for themselves, and less for man, than any other portion of creation. With such reflections we look at a swarm of them, peopling, indeed, the whole air, but only visible when they flash into the sunshine, and annihilated out of visible existence when they dart into a region of shadow; to be again reproduced as suddenly. Now we hear the striking of the village clock, distant, but yet so near that each stroke is impressed distinctly upon the air. This is a sound that does not disturb the repose of the scene: it does not break our sabbath; for like a sabbath seems this place, and the more so on account of the cornfield rustling at our feet. It tells of human labor, but, being so solitary now, it seems as if it were on account of the sacredness of the sabbath. Yet it is not so, for we hear at a distance mowers whetting their scythes; but these sounds of labor, when at a proper remoteness, do but increase the quiet of one who lies at his ease, all in a mist of his own musings. There is the tinkling of a cow-bell, a noise how peevishly dissonant if close at hand, but even musical now. But, hark there is the whistle of the locomotive,--the long shriek, harsh above all other harshness, for the space of a mile cannot mollify it into harmony. It tells a story of busy men, citizens, from the hot street, who have come to spend a day in a country village,--men of business,--in short, of all unquietness; and no wonder that it gives such a startling shriek, since it brings the noisy world into the midst of our slumbrous peace. As our thoughts repose again, after this interruption, we find ourselves gazing up at the leaves, and comparing their different aspect, the beautiful diversity of green, as the sun is diffused through them as a medium, or reflected from their glossy surface. You see, too, here and there, dead and leafless branches, which you had no more been aware of before, than if they had assumed this old and dry decay since you sat down upon the bank. Look at our feet, and here likewise are objects as good as new. There are two little round white fungi, which probably sprang from the ground in the course of last night, curious productions of the mushroom tribe, and which, by and by, will be those little things with smoke in them, which children call puff-balls. Is there nothing else? Yes, here is a whole colony of little ant-hills, a real village of them; they are small round hillocks, framed of minute particles of gravel, with an entrance in the centre; and through some of them blades of grass or small shrubs have sprouted up, producing an effect not unlike that of trees overshadowing a homestead. Here is a type of domestic industry,--perhaps, too, something of municipal institutions,--perhaps, likewise, (who knows?) the very model of a community, which Fourierites and others are stumbling in pursuit of. Possibly the student of such philosophies should go to the ant, and find that nature has given him his lesson there. Meantime, like a malevolent genius, I drop a few grains of sand into the entrance of one of their dwellings, and thus quite obliterate it. And, behold! here comes one of the inhabitants, who has been abroad upon some public or private business, or perhaps to enjoy a fantastic walk,--and cannot any longer find his own door What surprise, what hurry, what confusion of mind, are expressed in his movement! How inexplicable to him must be the agency which has effected this mischief! The incident will probably be long remembered in the annals of the ant colony, and be talked of in the winter days, when they are making merry over their hoarded provisions.

But come, it is time to move. The sun has shifted his position, and has found a vacant space through the branches, by means of which he levels his rays full upon our heads. Yet now, as we arise, a cloud has come across him, and makes everything gently sombre in an instant. Many clouds, voluminous and heavy, are scattered about the sky, like the shattered ruins of a dreamer's Utopia. But we will not send our thoughts thitherward now, nor take one of them into our present observations. The clouds of any one day are material enough, of themselves, for the observation of either an idie man or a philosopher.

And now, how narrow, scanty, and meagre is this record of observation, compared with the immensity that was to be observed, within the bounds that we prescribed ourselves! How shallow and small a stream of thought, too,--of distinct and expressed thought,--compared with the broad tide of dim emotions, ideas, associations, which were flowing through the haunted regions of imagination, intellect, and sentiment; sometimes excited by what was around us; sometimes with no perceptible connection with them. When we see how little we can express, it is a wonder that any one ever takes up a pen a second time.


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