The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 110/Passages from Hawthorne's Note-Books
PASSAGES FROM HAWTHORNE'S NOTE-BOOKS.
March, 1845.—Nature sometimes displays a little tenderness for our vanity, but is never careful for our pride. She is willing that we should look foolish in the eyes of others, but keeps our little nonsensicalnesses from ourselves.
Perhaps there are higher intelligences that look upon all the manifestations of the human mind—metaphysics, ethics, histories, politics, poems, stories, etc., etc.—with the same interest that we look upon flowers, or any other humble production of nature,—finding a beauty and fitness even in the poorest of them, which we cannot see in the best.
A child or a young girl so sweet and beautiful, that God made new flowers on purpose for her.
May 4.—On the river-side, by the Promontory of Columbines. The river here makes a bend, nearly at a right angle. On the opposite side, a high bank descends precipitately to the water; a few apple-trees are scattered along the declivity. A small cottage, with a barn, peeps over the top of the bank; and at its foot, with their roots in the water, is a picturesque clump of several maple-trees, their trunks all in a cluster, and their tops forming a united mass of new fast-budding foliage. At the foot of this clump of trees lies a boat, half in the water, half drawn up on the bank. A tract of flags and water-weeds extends along the base of the bank, outside of which, at a late period, will grow the flat, broad leaves of the yellow water-lily, and the pond-lily. A southwestern breeze is ruffling the river, and drives the little wavelets in the same direction as the current. Most of the course of the river in this vicinity is through marshy and meadowy ground, as yet scarcely redeemed from the spring-time overflow, and which at all seasons is plashy and unfit for walking. At my feet the water overbrims the shore, and kisses the new green grass, which sprouts even beneath it.
The Promontory of Columbines rises rugged and rocky from amidst surrounding lowlands, (in a field next to that where the monument is erected, near the Old Manse,) and it forms the forth-putting angle at the bend of the river. In earlier spring the river embraces it all round, and converts it into an island. Rocks, with flakes of dry moss covering them, peep out everywhere; and abundant columbines grow in the interstices of these rocks, and wherever else the soil is scanty and difficult enough to suit their fancy,—avoiding the smoother and better sites, which they might just as well have chosen, close at hand. They are earlier on this spot than anywhere else, and are therefore doubly valuable, though not nearly so large, nor of so rich a scarlet and gold, as some that we shall gather from the eastern slope of a hill, two or three weeks hence. The promontory is exposed to all winds, and there seems no reason why it should produce the earliest flowers, unless that this is a peculiar race of columbines, which has the precious gift of earlier birth assigned to them in lieu of rich beauty. This is the first day of the present spring that I have found any quite blown; but last year, I believe, they came considerably earlier. Here and there appeared a blue violet, nestling close to the ground, pretty, but inconvenient to gather and carry home, on account of its short stalk. Houstonias are scattered about by handfuls. Anemones have been in bloom for several days on the edge of the woods, but none ever grow on the Promontory of Columbines.
The grass is a glad green in spots; but this verdure is very partial, and over the general extent the old, withered stalks of last year's grass are found to predominate. The verdure appears rich, between the beholder and the sun; in the opposite direction, it is much less so. Old mullein-stalks rise tall and desolate, and cling tenaciously to the soil when we try to uproot them. The promontory is broken into two or three heads. Its only shadow is from a moderately-sized elm, which, from year to year, has flung down its dead branches, all within its circumference, where they lie in various stages of decay. There are likewise rotten and charred stumps of several other trees.
The fence of our avenue is covered with moss on the side fronting towards the north, while the opposite side is quite free from it,—the reason being, that there is never any sunshine on the north side to dry the moisture caused by rains from the northeast. The moss is very luxuriant, sprouting from the half-decayed wood, and clinging to it as if partially incorporated therewith.
Towards the dimness of evening a half-length figure appearing at a window,—the blackness of the background, and the light upon the face, cause it to appear like a Rembrandt picture.
On the top of Wachusett, butterflies, large and splendid; also bees in considerable numbers, sucking honey from the alpine flowers. There is a certain flower, a species of Potentilla, I think, which is found on mountains at a certain elevation, and inhabits a belt, being found neither above nor below it. On the highest top of Wachusett there is a circular foundation, built evidently with great labor, of large, rough stones, and rising perhaps fifteen feet. On this basis formerly rose a wooden tower, the fragments of which, a few of the timbers, now lie scattered about. The immediate summit of the mountain is nearly bare and rocky, although interspersed with bushes; but at a very short distance below there are trees, though slender, forming a tangled confusion, and among them grows the wild honeysuckle pretty abundantly, which was in bloom when we were there (Sunday, June 17th). A flight of rude stone steps ascends the circular stone foundation of the round tower. By the by, it cannot be more than ten feet high, at the utmost, instead of fifteen.
The prospect from the top of Wachusett is the finest that I have seen,—the elevation being not so great as to snatch the beholder from all sympathy with earth. The roads that wind along at the foot of the mountain are discernible; and the villages, lying separate and unconscious of one another, each with their little knot of peculiar interests, but all gathered into one category by the observer above them. White spires, and the white glimmer of hamlets, perhaps a dozen miles off. The gleam of lakes afar, giving life to the whole landscape. Much wood, shagging hills and plains. On the west, a hill-country, swelling like waves, with these villages sometimes discovered among them. On the east it looks dim and blue, and affects the beholder like the sea, as the eye stretches far away. On the north (?) appears Monadnock, in his whole person, discernible from the feet upwards, rising boldly and tangibly to the sense, so that you have the figure wholly before you, fair and blue, but not dim and cloudlike.
On the road from Princeton to Fitchburg we passed fields which were entirely covered with the mountain-laurel in full bloom,—as splendid a spectacle, in its way, as could be imagined. Princeton is a little town, lying on a high ridge, exposed to all the stirrings of the upper air, and with a prospect of a score of miles round about. The great family of this place is that of the Boylstons, who own Wachusett, and have a mansion, with good pretensions to architecture, in Princeton.
Notables: Old Gregory, the dweller of the mountain-side; his high-spirited wife; the son, speaking gruffly from behind the scenes, in answer to his father's inquiries as to the expediency of lodging us. The brisk little landlord at Princeton, recently married, intelligent, honest, lively, agreeable; his wife, with her young-ladyish manners still about her; the second class of annuals, and other popular literature, in the parlors of the house; colored engraving of the explosion of the Princeton's gun, with the principal characters in that scene, designated by name; also Death of Napoleon, &c. A young Mr. Boylston boarding at the inn, and driving out in a beautiful, city-built phaeton, of exquisite lightness. We met him and a lady in the phaeton, and two other ladies on horseback, in a narrow path, densely wooded, on the ascent of a hill. It was quite romantic. Likewise old Mr. Boylston, frequenting the tavern, coming in after church, and smoking a cigar,. . . . entering into conversation with strangers about the ascent of the mountain. The tailor of the place, with his queer advertisement pasted on the wall of the barroom, comprising certificates from tailors in New York City, and various recommendations, from clergymen and others, of his moral and religious character. Two Shakers in the cars,—both, if I mistake not, with thread gloves on. The foundation of the old meeting-house of Princeton, standing on a height above the village, as bleak and windy as the top of Mount Ararat; also the old deserted town-house. The edifices were probably thus located in order to be more exactly in the centre of the township.
From July 25 to August 9, 1845, at Portsmouth Navy Yard. Remarkables: the free and social mode of life among the officers and their families, meeting at evening on the door-steps or in front of their houses, or stepping in familiarly; the rough-hewn first lieutenant, with no ideas beyond the service; the doctor, priding himself on his cultivation and refinement, pretending to elegance, sensitive, touchy; the sailing-master, an old salt, of the somewhat modernized Tom Bowline pattern, tossed about by fifty years of stormy surges, and at last swept into this quiet nook, where he tells yarns of his cruises and duels, repeats his own epitaph, drinks a reasonable quantity of grog, and complains of dyspepsia; the old fat major of marines, with a brown wig not pretending to imitate natural hair, but only to cover his baldness and grayness with something that he imagines will be less unsightly: he has a potent odor of snuff, but has left off wine and strong drink for the last twenty-seven years. A Southerner, all astray among our New England manners, but reconciling himself to them, like a long practised man of the world, only somewhat tremulous at the idea of a New England winter. The lieutenant of marines, a tall, red-haired man, between thirty and forty, stiff in his motions from the effect of a palsy contracted in Florida,—a man of thought, both as to his profession and other matters, particularly matters spiritual,—a convert, within a few years, to Papistry,—a seer of ghosts,—a dry joker, yet sad and earnest in his nature,—a scientific soldier, criticising Jackson's military talent,—fond of discussion, with much more intellect than he finds employment for,—withal, somewhat simple. Then the commandant of the yard, Captain S———, a man without brilliancy, of plain aspect and simple manners, but just, upright, kindly, with an excellent practical intellect; his next in rank, Commander P———, an officer-like, middle-aged man, with such cultivation as a sensible man picks up about the world; and with what little tincture he imbibes from a bluish wife. In the vicinity of the Navy Yard, an engineer-officer, stationed for a year or two past on a secluded point of the coast, making a map, minutely finished, on a very extensive scale, of country and coast near Portsmouth; he is red-nosed, and has the aspect of a free liver; his companion, a civil engineer, with much more appearance of intellectual activity. Their map is spread out in a room that looks forth upon the sea and islands, and has all the advantages of sea-air,—very desirable for summer, but gloomy as a winter residence.
At Fort Constitution are many officers,—a major and two lieutenants, the former living in a house within the walls of the fort, the latter occupying small residences outside. They are coarse men, apparently of few ideas, and not what one can call gentlemen. They are likewise less frank and hospitable than the navy officers. Their quarters have not the aspect of homes, although they continue for a term of years, five or more, on one station, whereas the navy officers are limited to two or three. But then the former migrate with their families to new stations, whereas the wives of the naval officers, though ejected from the navy-yard houses, yet, not accompanying their husbands on service, remain to form a nucleus of home.
Two or three miles from the Navy Yard, on Kittery Point, stands the former residence of Sir William Pepperell. It is a gambrel-roofed house, very long and spacious, and looks venerable and imposing from its dimensions. A decent, respectable, intelligent woman admitted us, and showed us from bottom to top of her part of the house; she being a tenant of one half. The rooms were not remarkable for size, but were panelled on every side. The staircase is the best feature, ascending gradually, broad and square, and with an elaborate balustrade; and over the front door there is a wide window and a spacious breadth, where the old baronet and his guests, after dinner, might sit and look out upon the water and his ships at anchor. The garret is one apartment, extending over the whole house. The kitchen is very small,—much too small for the credit of the house, were it not redeemed by the size of the fireplace, which originally could not have been less than fourteen feet, though now abridged by an oven, which has been built within it. The hearth extends half-way across the floor of the kitchen. On one side, the road passes close by the house; on the other, it stands within fifty yards of the shore. I recollect no outhouses. At a short distance, across the road, is a marble tomb, on the level slab of which is the Pepperell coat of arms, and an inscription in memory of Sir William's father, to whom the son seems to have erected it,—although it is the family tomb. We saw no other trace of Sir William or his family. Precisely a hundred years since he was in his glory. None of the name now exist here,—or elsewhere, as far as I know. A descendant of the Sparhawks, one of whom married Pepperell's daughter, is now keeper of a fort in the vicinity,—a poor man. Lieutenant Baker tells me that he has recently discovered a barrel full of the old family papers.
The house in Portsmouth now owned and occupied by the Rev. Mr. Burroughs was formerly the mansion of Governor Langdon. It contains noble and spacious rooms. The Doctor's library is a fine apartment, extending, I think, the whole breadth of the house, forty or fifty feet, with elaborate cornices, a carved fireplace, and other antiquated magnificences. It was, I suppose, the reception-room, and occasionally the dining-hall. The opposite parlor is likewise large, and finished in excellent style, the mantelpiece being really a fine architectural specimen. . . . . Doctor Burroughs is a scholar, rejoicing in the possession of an old, illuminated missal, which he showed us, adorned with brilliant miniatures and other pictures by some monkish hand. It was given him by a commodore in the navy, who picked it up in Italy, without knowing what it was, nor could the learned professors of at least one college inform him, until he finally offered it to Dr. Burroughs, on condition that he should tell him what it was. We likewise saw a copy of the famous "Breeches Bible," and other knicknacks and curiosities which people have taken pleasure in giving to one who appreciated such things, and whose kindly disposition makes it a happiness to oblige him. His house has entertained famous guests in the time of the old Governor,—among them Louis Philippe, Talleyrand, Lafayette, and Washington, all of whom occupied successively the same chamber; besides, no doubt, a host of less world-wide distinguished persons.
A battery of thirty-two pound periods.
In the eyes of a young child or other innocent person, the image of a cherub or an angel to be seen peeping out,—in those of a vicious person, a devil.
October 11. In Boston, a man passing along Colonnade Row, grinding a barrel-organ, and attended by a monkey, dressed in frock and pantaloons, and with a tremendously thick tail appearing behind. While his master played on the organ, the monkey kept pulling off his hat, bowing and scraping to the spectators, round about,—sometimes, too, making a direct application to an individual,—by all this dumb show, beseeching them to remunerate the organ-player. Whenever a coin was thrown on the ground, the monkey picked it up, clambered on his master's shoulder, and gave it into his keeping, then descended, and repeated his pantomimic entreaties for more. His little, old, ugly, wrinkled face had an earnestness that looked just as if it came from the love of money deep within his soul. He peered round, searching for filthy lucre on all sides. With his tail and all, he might be taken for the Mammon of copper coin,—a symbol of covetousness of small gains,—the lowest form of the love of money.
Baby was with us, holding by my forefinger, and walking decorously along the pavement. She stopped to contemplate the monkey, and after a while, shocked by his horrible ugliness, began to cry.
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, trying over and over again to grasp domestic happiness; then a soldier, then a statesman, &c., at last realizing some truth.
The most graceful way in which a man can signify that he feels that he is growing old, and acquiesces in it, is by adhering to the fashion of dress which chances to be in vogue when the conviction comes upon him. Thus, in a few years, he will find himself quietly apart from the crowd of young men.
Our most intimate friend is not he to whom we show the worst, but the best of our nature.
Nothing comes amiss to Nature,—all is fish that comes to her net. If there be a living form of perfect beauty, instinct with soul,—why, it is all very well, and suits Nature well enough. But she would just as lief have that beautiful, soul-illumined body for worms' meat and earth's manure!
Instances of two ladies, who vowed never again to see the light of the sun, on account of disappointments in love. Each of them kept her vow, living thenceforth, and dying after many years, in apartments closely shut up, and lighted by candles. One appears to have lived in total darkness.
The infirmities that come with old age may be the interest on the debt of nature, which should have been more seasonably paid. Often the interest will be a heavier payment than the principal.
By a Lord of the Admiralty, (in a speech in Parliament during our Revolution,) the number of American sailors employed in the British navy previous to the Revolution was estimated at eighteen thousand.
Some men have no right to perform great deeds, or think high thoughts; and when they do so, it is a kind of humbug. They had better keep within their own propriety.
In England, in 1761, a man and his wife, formerly in good circumstances, died very poor, and were buried at the expense of the parish. This coming to the ears of the friends of their better days, they had the corpses taken out of the ground and buried in a more genteel manner!
In the "Annual Register," Vol. IV., for 1761, there is a letter from Cromwell to Fleetwood, dated August 22, 1653, which Carlyle appears not to have given. Also one, without date, to the Speaker of the House of Commons, narrating the taking of Basing House.
Recently, in an old house which has been taken down at the corner of Bulfinch Street and Bowdoin Square, a perfect and full-grown skeleton was discovered, concealed between the ceiling and the floor of a room in the upper story. Another skeleton was not long since found in similar circumstances.
In a garden, a pool of perfectly transparent water, the bed of which should be paved with marble, or perhaps with mosaic work in images and various figures, which through the clear water would look wondrously beautiful.
October 20, 1847.—A walk in a warm and pleasant afternoon to Browne's Hill, not uncommonly called Browne's Folly, from the mansion which one of that family, before the Revolution, erected on its summit. (On October 14, 1837, I recorded a walk thither.) In a line with the length of the ridge, the ascent is gradual and easy, but straight up the sides it is steep. There is a large and well-kept orchard at the foot, through which I passed, gradually ascending; then, surmounting a stone wall, beneath chestnut-trees which had thrown their dry leaves down, I climbed the remainder of the hill. There were still the frequent barberry-bushes; and the wood-wax has begun to tuft itself over the sides and summit, which seem to be devoted to pasture. On the very highest part are still the traces of the foundation of the old mansion. The hall had a gallery running round it beneath the ceiling, and was a famous place for dancing. The house stood, I believe, till some years subsequent to the Revolution, and was then removed in three portions, each of which became a house somewhere on the plain, and perhaps they are standing now. The proprietor, being a royalist, became an exile when the Revolution broke out, and I suppose died abroad. I know not whether the house was intended as a permanent family-residence or merely as a pleasure-place for the summer; but from its extent I should conceive the former to have been its purpose. Be that as it may, it has perpetuated an imputation of folly upon the poor man who erected it, which still keeps his memory disagreeably alive after a hundred years. The house must have made a splendid appearance for many miles around; and the glare of the old-fashioned festivities would be visible, doubtless, in the streets of Salem, when he illuminated his windows to celebrate a king's birthday, or some other loyal occasion. The barberry-bushes, clustering within the cellars, offer the harsh acidity of their fruit to-day, instead of the ripe wines which used to be stored there.
Descending the hill, I entered a green, seldom-trodden lane, which runs along at a hundred yards or two from its base, and parallel with its ridge. It was overshadowed by chestnut-trees, and bordered with the prevalent barberry-bush, and between ran the track,—the beaten path of the horses' feet, and the even way of either wheel, with green strips between. It was a very lonely lane, and very pleasant in the warm, declining sun; and, following it a third of a mile, I came to a place that was familiar to me when I was a child, as the residence of a country cousin whom I used to be brought to see. There was his old house still standing, but deserted, with all the windows boarded up, and the door likewise, and the chimneys removed,—a most desolate-looking place. A young dog came barking towards me as I approached,—barking, but frisking, between play and watchfulness. Within fifty yards of the old house, farther back from the road, stands a stone house, of some dozen or twenty years' endurance,—an ugly affair, so plain is it,—which was built by the old man in his latter days. The well of the old house, out of which I have often drunk, and over the curb of which I have peeped to see my own boy-visage closing the far vista below, seems to be still in use for the new edifice. Passing on a little farther, I came to a brook, which, I remember, the old man's son and I dammed up, so that it almost overflowed the road. The stream has strangely shrunken now; it is a mere ditch, indeed, and almost a dry one. Going a little farther, I came to a graveyard by the roadside,—not apparently a public graveyard, but the resting-place of a family or two, with half a dozen gravestones. On two marble stones, standing side by side, I read the names of Benjamin Foster and Anstiss Foster, the people whom I used to be brought to visit. He had died in 1824, aged seventy-five; she in 1837, aged seventy.
A young woman in England, poisoned by an East Indian barbed dart, which her brother had brought home as a curiosity.
The old house on Browne's Hill was removed from the summit to the plain, at a short distance from the foot of the hill. Colonel Putnam, of the Custom-House, recollects it there, standing unoccupied, but with the furniture still in it. It seems to have been accessible to all who wished to enter. It was at that time under the care of Richard Derby, an ancestor of the present Derbys, who had a claim to the property through his wife, who was a Browne. The owner of the house had fled during the Revolution, and Richard Derby seems to have held the estate as it was when the refugee left it, in expectation of his eventual return. There was one closet in the house which everybody was afraid to open, it being supposed that the Devil was in it. One day, above fifty years ago, or threescore it may have been, Putnam and other boys were playing in the house, and took it into their heads to peep into this closet. It was locked, but Putnam pried open the door, with great difficulty and much tremor. At last it flew open, and out fell a great pile of family portraits, faces of gentlemen in wigs, and ladies in quaint head-dresses, displaying themselves on the floor, startling the urchins out of their wits. They all fled, but returned after a while, piled up the pictures again, and nailed up the door of the closet.
The house, according to the same authority, was not tenanted after the earthquake of 1775; at least, it was removed from the summit of the hill on that occasion, it having been greatly shaken by the earthquake.
The house formerly inhabited by Rev. Mr. Paris, and in which the witchcraft business of 1692 had its origin, is still standing in the north parish of Danvers. It has been long since removed from its original site. The workmen at first found great difficulty in removing it; and an old man assured them that the house was still under the influence of the Devil, and would remain so unless they took off the roof. Finally they did take off the roof, and then succeeded in moving the house. Putnam was personally cognizant of this fact.
November 17.—A story of the effects of revenge in diabolizing him who indulges in it.
The Committee of Vigilance, instituted to promote the discovery of old Mr. White's murderers,—good as the machinery of a sketch or story.
A story of the life, domestic and external, of a family of birds in a marten-house, for children.
The people believed that John Hancock's uncle had bought an immense diamond at a low price, and sold it for its value,—he having grown rich with a rapidity inexplicable to them. The fact was, however, according to Hutchinson, that he made his fortune by smuggling tea in molasses hogsheads from St. Eustatia.
An old French Governor of Acadie, the predecessor of D'Aulnay, paid for some merchandise, which he bought of the captain of an English vessel, with six or seven hundred buttons of massive gold, taken from one of his suits. (Mass. Hist. Coll.)
An apparition haunts the front yard. I have often, while sitting in the parlor, in the daytime, had a perception that somebody was passing the windows; but, looking towards them, nobody is there. The appearance is never observable when looking directly towards the window, but only by such a sidelong or indirect glance as one gets while reading, or when intent on something else. But I know not how many times I have raised my head or turned with the certainty that somebody were passing. The other day I found that my wife was equally aware of the spectacle, and that, as likewise agrees with my own observation, it always appears to be entering the yard from the street, never going out.
The immortal flowers,—a child's story.
"He looked as if he had been standing up thirty years against a northeast storm." Description of an old mate of a vessel, by Pike.
Death possesses a good deal of real estate, namely, the graveyards in every town. Of late years, too, he has pleasure-grounds, as at Mount Auburn and elsewhere.
Corwin is going to Lynn; Oliver proposes to walk thither with him. "No," says Corwin, "I don't want you. You take great, long steps; or, if you take short ones, 'tis all hypocrisy. And, besides, you keep humming all the time."
May 18, 1848.—Decay of the year has already commenced. I saw a dandelion gone to seed, this afternoon, in the Great Pasture.
Words, so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
Captain B——— tells a story of an immense turtle which he saw at sea, on a voyage to Batavia,—so long, that the look-out at the mast-head mistook it for a rock. The ship passed close to it, and it was apparently longer than the long-boat, "with a head bigger than any dog's head you ever see," and great prickles on his back a foot long. Arriving at Batavia, he told the story, and an old pilot exclaimed, "What! have you seen Bellysore Tom?" It seems that the pilots had been acquainted with this turtle as many as twelve years, and always found him in the same latitude. They never did him any injury, but were accustomed to throw him pieces of meat, which he received in good part, so that there was a mutual friendship between him and the pilots. Old Mr. L———, in confirmation of the story, asserted that he had often heard other shipmasters speak of the same, monster; but he being a notorious liar, and Captain B——— 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.
The Grey Property Case. Mrs. Grey and her child three years old were carried off by the Indians in 1756 from the Tuscarora valley in Pennsylvania. The father, going on a campaign in search of them, was exhausted by fatigue, and came home only to die, bequeathing half his property to his child, if living. The mother, his wife, being redeemed, and there being several children who had been captive to the Indians to be seen at Philadelphia, went thither to see and recognize her little three years' old daughter, from whom, in her captivity, she had been separated. Her child proved not to be among the little captives; but, in order to get possession of her husband's property, she claimed another child, of about the same age. This child grew up gross, ugly, awkward, a "big, black, uncomely Dutch lump, not to be compared to the beautiful Fanny Grey," and moreover turned out morally bad. The real daughter was said to have been married, and settled in New York, "a fine woman, with a fair house and fair children." At all events, she was never recovered by her relatives, and her existence seems to have been doubtful. In 1789, the heirs of John Grey, the father, became aware that the claimed and recovered child was not the child that had been lost. They commenced a lawsuit for the recovery of John Grey's property, consisting of a farm of three or four hundred acres. This lawsuit lasted till 1834, when it was decided against the identity of the recovered child. (Sherman Day's Hist. Coll. of Penn.)
Bethuel Vincent, carried by the Indians to Canada, being then recently married. A few years after, a rough-looking man fell in with a sleighing party at a tavern, and inquired if they knew anything of Mrs. Vincent. She was pointed out to him. He gave her news of her husband, and, joining the sleighing party, began to grow familiar with Mrs. Vincent, and wished to take her upon his lap. She resisted,—but behold! the rough-looking stranger was her long-lost husband. There are good points in this story. (Ibid.)
Among the survivors of a wreck are two bitter enemies. The parties, having remained many days without food, cast lots to see who shall be killed as food for the rest. The lot falls on one of the enemies. The other may literally eat his heart!
October 13.—During this moon, I have two or three evenings sat for some time in our dining-room without light except from the coal fire and the moon. Moonlight produces a very beautiful effect in the room, falling so white upon the carpet, and showing its figures so distinctly, and making all the room so visible, and yet so different from a morning or noontide visibility. There are all the familiar things, every chair, the tables, the couch, the bookcase, all that we are accustomed to see in the daytime; but now it seems as if we were remembering them through a lapse of years, rather than seeing them with the immediate eye. A child's shoe, the doll, sitting in her little wicker-carriage, all objects that have been used or played with during the day, though still as familiar as ever, are invested with something like strangeness and remoteness. I cannot in any measure express it. Then the somewhat dim coal fire throws its unobtrusive tinge through the room,—a faint ruddiness upon the wall,—which has a not unpleasant effect in taking from the colder spirituality of the moonbeams. Between both these lights such a medium is created that the room seems just fit for the ghosts of persons very dear, who have lived in the room with us, to glide noiselessly in and sit quietly down, without affrighting us. It would be like a matter of course to look round and find some familiar form in one of the chairs. If one of the white curtains happen to be drawn before the windows, the moonlight makes a delicate tracery with the branches of the trees, the leaves somewhat thinned by the progress of autumn, but still pretty abundant. It is strange how utterly I have failed to give anything of the effect of moonlight in a room.
The firelight diffuses a mild, heart-warm influence through the parlor, but is scarcely visible, unless you particularly look for it; and then you become conscious of a faint tinge upon the ceiling, of a reflected gleam from the mahogany furniture, and, if your eyes happen to fall on the looking-glass, deep within it you perceive the glow of the burning anthracite. I hate to leave such a scene; and when retiring to bed, after closing the door, I reopen it again and again, to peep back at the warm, cheerful, solemn repose, the white light, the faint ruddiness, the dimness,—all like a vision, and which makes me feel as if I were in a conscious dream.
The first manufacture of the kind of candy called Gibraltar rock, for a child's story; to be told in a romantic, mystic, marvellous style.
An angel comes 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. The angel distributes these good things where they will be appreciated.
Annals of a kitchen.
A benevolent person going about the world and endeavoring to do good to everybody; in pursuance of which object, for instance, he gives, a pair of spectacles to a blind man, and does all such ill-suited things.
Beautiful positions of statues to one intellectually blind.
A man, arriving at the extreme point of old age, grows young again at the same pace at which he has 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.
Little gnomes, dwelling in hollow teeth. They find a tooth that has been plugged with gold, and it serves them as a gold mine.
The wizard, Michael Scott, used to give a feast to his friends, the dishes of 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.
"Pixilated,"—a Marblehead word, meaning bewildered, wild about any matter. Probably derived from Pixy, a fairy.
For a child's story,—imagine all sorts of wonderful playthings.
Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Thomas More, Algernon Sidney, or some other great man, on the eve of execution, to make reflections on his own head,—considering and addressing it in a looking-glass.
March 16, 1849.—J———. . . . speaking of little B. P———: "I will hug him, so that not any storm can come to him."
A story, the principal personage of which shall seem always on the point of entering upon the scene, but never shall appear.
In the "New Statistical Account of Scotland," (Vol. I.,) it is stated that a person had observed, in his own dairy, that the milk of several cows, when mixed together and churned, produced much less butter proportionably than the milk of a single cow; and that the greater the number of cows which contributed their milk, the smaller was the comparative product. Hence, this person was accustomed to have the milk of each cow churned separately.
A modern magician to make the semblance of a human being, with two laths for legs, a pumpkin for a head, etc., of the rudest and most 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 gray dandy be discovered to be nothing but a suit of clothes, with a few sticks inside of them. 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 thing of mere talk and clothes, without heart, soul, or intellect. And so this wretched old creature shall become the symbol of a large class.
The golden sands that may sometimes be gathered (always, perhaps, if we know how to seek for them) along the dry bed of a torrent adown which passion and feeling have foamed, and passed away. It is good, therefore, in mature life, to trace back such torrents to their source.
The same children who make the little snow image shall plant dry sticks, etc., and they shall take root and grow in mortal flowers, etc.
Monday, September 17.—Set out on a journey to Temple, N.H., with E.F. M———, to visit his father. Started by way of Boston, in the half past ten train, and took the Lowell and Nashua Railroad at twelve, as far as Danforth's Corner, about fifty miles, and thence in stage-coach to Milford, four miles farther, and in a light wagon to Temple, perhaps twelve miles farther. During the latter drive, the road gradually ascended, with tracts of forest land alongside, and latterly a brook, which we followed for several miles, and finally found it flowing through General M———'s farm. The house is an old country dwelling, in good condition, standing beside the road, in a valley surrounded by a wide amphitheatre of high hills. There is a good deal of copse and forest on the estate, high hills of pasture land, old, cultivated fields, and all such pleasant matters. The General sat in an easy-chair in the common room of the family, looking better than when in Salem, with an air of quiet, vegetative enjoyment about him, scarcely alive to outward objects. He did his best to express a hospitable pleasure at seeing me; but did not succeed, so that I could distinguish his words. He loves to sit amidst the bustle of his family, and is dimly amused by what is going forward; is pleased, also, to look out of the open window and see the poultry—a guinea-hen, turkeys, a peacock, a tame deer, etc.—which feed there. His mind sometimes wanders, and he hardly knows where he is; will not be convinced that he is anywhere but at Salem, until they drag his chair to a window from which he can see a great elm-tree of which he is very fond, standing in front of the house. Then he acknowledges that he must be at the farm, because, he says, they never could have transplanted that tree. He is pleased with flowers, which they bring him,—a kind-hearted old man. The other day a live partridge was sent him, and he ordered it to be let go, because he would not suffer a life to be taken to supply him with a single meal. This tenderness has always been characteristic of the old soldier. His birthplace was within a few miles of this spot,—the son and descendant of husbandmen,—and character and fortune together have made him a man of history.
This is a most hospitable family, and they live in a style of plain abundance, rural, but with traits of more refined modes. Many domestics, both for farm and household work. Two unmarried daughters; an old maiden aunt; an elderly lady, Mrs. C. of Newburyport, visiting; a young girl of fifteen, a connection of the family, also visiting, and now confined to her chamber by illness. Ney, a spaniel of easy and affable address, is a prominent personage, and generally lies in the parlor or sits beside the General's chair; always ready, too, to walk out with anybody so inclined. Flora, a little black pony, is another four-footed favorite. In the warm weather, the family dine in a large room on one side of the house, rough and rustic looking, with rude beams overhead. There were evergreens hanging on the walls, and the figures 1776, also in evergreen, and a national flag suspended in one corner,—the blue being made out of old homespun garments, the red stripes out of some of the General's flannel wrappings, and the eagle copied from the figure on a half-dollar,—all being the handiwork of the ladies, on occasion of the last Fourth of July. It is quite a pleasant dining-hall; and while we were eating fruit, the deer, which is of a small and peculiar breed from the South, came and thrust its head into the open window, looking at us with beautiful and intelligent eyes. It had smelt the fruit, and wished to put in its claim for a share.
Tuesday morning, before breakfast, E——— and I drove three or four miles, to the summit of an intervening ridge, from which we had a wide prospect of hill and dale, with Monadnock in the midst. It was a good sight, although the atmosphere did not give the hills that aspect of bulk and boldness which it sometimes does. This part of the country is but thinly inhabited, and the dwellings are generally small. It is said that, in the town of Temple, there are more old cellars, where dwellings have formerly stood, than there are houses now inhabited. The town is not far from a hundred years old, but contains now only five or six hundred inhabitants. The enterprising young men emigrate elsewhere, leaving only the least energetic portions to carry on business at home. There appear to be but few improvements, the cultivated fields being of old date, smooth with long cultivation. Here and there, however, a tract newly burned over, or a few acres with the stumps still extant. The farm-houses all looked very lonesome and deserted to-day, the inhabitants having gone to the regimental muster at New Ipswich.
As we drove home, E——— told a story of a child who was lost, seventy or eighty years ago, among the woods and hills. He was about five years old, and had gone with some work-people to a clearing in the forest, where there was a rye-field, at a considerable distance from the farm-house. Getting tired, he started for home alone, but did not arrive. They made what search for him they could that night, and the next day the whole town turned out, but without success. The day following, many people from the neighboring towns took up the search, and on this day, I believe, they found the child's shoes and stockings, but nothing else. After a while, they gave up the search in despair; but for a long time, a fortnight or three weeks or more, his mother fancied that she heard the boy's voice in the night, crying, "Father! father!" One of his little sisters also heard this voice; but people supposed that the sounds must be those of some wild animal. No more search was made, and the boy never was found.
But it is not known whether it was the next autumn, or a year or two after, some hunters came upon traces of the child's wanderings among the hills, in a different direction from the previous search, and farther than it was supposed he could have gone. They found some little houses, such as children build of twigs and sticks of wood, and these the little fellow had probably built for amusement in his lonesome hours. Nothing, it seems to me, was ever more strangely touching than this incident,—his finding time for childish play, while wandering to his death in these desolate woods,—and then pursuing his way again, till at last he lay down to die on the dark mountain-side. Finally, on a hill which E——— pointed out to me, they found a portion of the child's hair adhering to the overthrown trunk of a tree; and this is all that was ever found of him. But it was supposed that the child had subsisted, perhaps for weeks, on the berries and other sustenance such as a forest-child knew how to find in the woods. I forgot to say, above, that a piece of birch or other bark was found, which he appeared to have gnawed. It was thought that the cry of "Father! father!" which the mother and little sister heard in the night-time, was really the little fellow's voice, then within hearing of his home; but he wandered away again, and at last sank down, and Death found him and carried him up to God. His bones were never found; and it was thought that the foxes or other wild animals had taken his little corpse, and scattered the bones, and that, dragging the body along, one lock of his flaxen hair had adhered to a tree.
I asked a physician whether it were possible that a child could live so long in the woods; and he thought it was, and said that children often show themselves more tenacious of life than grown people, and live longer in a famine. This is to me a very affecting story; and it seems to be felt as such by the people of the country. The little boy's parents, and his brothers and sisters, who probably lived to maturity or old age, are all forgotten; but he lives in tradition, and still causes wet eyes to strangers, as he did to me.
To account for the singularity of his not having been found by such numbers as took up the search, it is suggested that he was perhaps frightened, and perhaps concealed himself when he heard the noise of people making their way through the forest, people being apt to do so, when they get mazed with wandering in the woods. But it is strange that old hunters, with dogs, should have failed to find him. However, there is the fact.
After breakfast (a broiled chicken and excellent coffee) I walked out by myself. The brook would be a beautiful plaything for my children, and I wish I had such a one for them. As I looked down into it from the bridge, I saw little fish, minnows, small chubs, and perch sporting about and rising eagerly to anything that was thrown in. Returning towards the house, I encountered an ass, who seemed glad to see me, in its donkeyish way. Afterwards, E——— and I took a ramble among some of his old haunts, which took up pretty much all the remainder of the forenoon. After dinner we drove to New Ipswich, expecting to see the closing scenes of the muster, but found the regiment dismissed, and the spectators taking their departure. We visited a cousin of E———, and took tea; borrowed two great-coats (it having grown from summer to autumn very rapidly since nightfall), and drove home, six miles or thereabouts. A new moon and the long twilight gleamed over the first portion of our drive, and then the northern lights kindled up and shot flashes towards the zenith as we drove along, up hill and down dale, and most of the way through dense woods.
The next morning, after breakfast, we got into our wagon and returned to Milford, thence by stage to Danforth's Corner, thence to Boston by rail. Nothing noteworthy occurred, except that we called on Mr. Atherton and lady at Nashua. We reached Boston at three o'clock. I visited the Town and Country Club, and read the papers and journals, took the three quarters past five train and reached home at half past six.
In the new statistical account of Scotland, in the volume about the Hebrides, it is stated that a child was born, and lived to the age of, I think, two years, with an eye in the back of its head, in addition to the usual complement in front. It could evidently see with this eye; for when its cap was drawn down over it, it would thrust it upward.
October 27.—Mrs.——— gave a black woman six dollars for a dress of pine-apple cloth, sixteen yards, perhaps worth ten times as much,—the owner being ignorant of the value.
To inherit a great fortune.—To inherit a great misfortune.
Reflections in a mud-puddle;—they might be pictures of life in a mean street of a city.
February 16, 1850.—The sunbeam that comes through a round hole in the shutter of a darkened room, where a dead man sits in solitude.
The hoary periwig of a dandelion gone to seed.
Lenox, July 14, 1850.—Language,—human language,—after all, is but little better than the croak and cackle of fowls, and other utterances of brute nature, sometimes not so adequate.
The queer gestures and sounds of a hen looking about for a place to deposit her egg, her self-important gait, the sideway turn of her head and cock of her eye, as she pries into one and another nook, croaking all the while, evidently with the idea that the egg in question is the most important thing that has been brought to pass since the world began. A speckled black and white and tufted hen of ours does it to most ludicrous perfection.
July 25.—As I sit in my study, with the windows open, the occasional incident of the visit of some winged creature,—wasp, hornet, or bee,—entering out of the warm, sunny atmosphere, soaring round the room with large sweeps, then buzzing against the glass, as not satisfied with the place, and desirous of getting out. Finally, the joyous uprising curve with which, coming to the open part of the window, it emerges into the cheerful glow outside.
August 4.—Dined at hotel with J.T. Fields. Afternoon drove with him to Pittsfield, and called on Dr. Holmes.
August 5.—Drove with Fields to Stockbridge, being thereto invited by Mr. Field of Stockbridge, in order to ascend Monument Mountain. Found at Mr. Field's, Dr. Holmes, Mr. Duyckink of New York; also Mr. Cornelius Matthews and Herman Melville. Ascended the mountain,—that is to say, Mrs. Fields and Miss Jenny Field, Mr. Field and Mr. J.T. Fields, Dr. Holmes, Mr. Duyckink, Matthews, Melville, Mr. Harry Sedgwick, and I,—and were caught in a shower. Dined at Mr. Field's. Afternoon, under guidance of J.F. Headley, the party scrambled through the Ice Glen. Left Stockbridge and arrived at home about eight P.M.
August 7.—Messrs. Duyckink, Matthews, and Melville called in the forenoon. Gave them a couple of bottles of Mr. Mansfield's champagne, and walked down to the lake with them. At twilight Mr. Edwin P. Whipple and wife called from Lenox.
August 19.—Monument Mountain, in the early sunshine; its base enveloped in mist, parts of which are floating in the sky; so that the great hill looks really as if it were founded on a cloud. Just emerging from the mist is seen a yellow field of rye, and above that, forest.
August 24.—In the afternoons, this valley in which I dwell seems like a vast basin filled with golden sunshine, as with wine.
August 31.—J.R. Lowell called in the evening. September 1st, he called with Mrs. Lowell in the forenoon, on their way to Stockbridge or Lebanon, to meet Miss Bremer.
September 2.—"When I grow up," quoth J———, in illustration of the might to which he means to attain,—"when I grow up, I shall be two men!"
September 3.—Foliage of maples begins to change.
In a wood, a heap or pile of logs and sticks that had been cut for firewood, and piled up square, in order to be carted away to the house when convenience served, or rather to be sledded in sleighing-time. But the moss had accumulated on them, and, leaves falling over them from year to year, and decaying, a kind of soil had quite covered them, although the softened outline of the woodpile was perceptible in the green mound. It was perhaps fifty years, perhaps more, since the woodman had cut and piled these logs and sticks, intending them for his winter fire. But he probably needs no fire now. There was something strangely interesting in this simple circumstance. Imagine the long-dead woodman, and his long-dead wife and family, and one old man who was a little child when the wood was cut, coming back from their graves, and trying to make a fire with this mossy fuel.
September 19.—Lying by the lake yesterday afternoon, with my eyes shut, while the breeze and sunshine were playing together on the water, the quick glimmer of the wavelets was perceptible through my closed eyelids.
October 13.—A cool day,—the wind northwest, with a general prevalence of dull gray clouds over the sky, but with brief, sudden glimpses of sunshine. The foliage having its autumn hues, Monument Mountain looks like a headless Sphinx, wrapt in a rich Persian shawl. Yesterday, through a diffused mist, with the sun shining on it, it had the aspect of burnished copper. The sun-gleams on the hills are peculiarly magnificent, just in these days.
October 13.—One of the children, drawing a cow on the blackboard, says, "I'll kick this leg out a little more,"—a very happy energy of expression, completely identifying herself with the cow; or, perhaps, as the cow's creator, conscious of full power over its movements.
October 14.—The brilliancy of the foliage has past its acme; and, indeed, it has not been so magnificent this season as usual, owing to the gradual approaches of cool weather, and there having been slight frosts instead of severe ones. There is still a shaggy richness on the hillsides.
October 16.—A morning mist, filling up the whole length and breadth of the valley, between the house and Monument Mountain, the summit of the mountain emerging. The mist reaches to perhaps a hundred yards of me, so dense as to conceal everything, except that near its hither boundary a few ruddy or yellow tree-tops rise up, glorified by the early sunshine, as is likewise the whole mist-cloud. There is a glen between our house and the lake, through which winds a little brook, with pools and tiny waterfalls, over the great roots of trees. The glen is deep and narrow, and filled with trees; so that, in the summer, it is all in dark shadow. Now, the foliage of the trees being almost entirely of a golden yellow, instead of being obscure, the glen is absolutely full of sunshine, and its depths are more brilliant than the open plain or the mountain-tops. The trees are sunshine, and, many of the golden leaves having freshly fallen, the glen is strewn with light, amid which winds and gurgles the bright, dark little brook.
October 28.—On a walk yesterday forenoon, my wife and children gathered Houstonias. Before night there was snow, mingled with rain. The trees are now generally bare.
December 1.—I saw a dandelion in bloom near the lake, in a pasture by the brookside. At night, dreamed of seeing Pike.
December 19.—If the world were crumbled to the finest dust, and scattered through the universe, there would not be an atom of the dust for each star.