Passages From Hawthorne’s Note-Books (Part IV)

Personal musings from the renowned American author

This is part four of a twelve-part series.
Read part one here, two here, part three here, part five here,
part six here, part seven here, part eight here, part nine here,
part ten here, part eleven here, and part twelve here.


Salem, August 22d 1837. — A walk yesterday afternoon down to the Juniper and Winter Island. Singular effect of partial sunshine, the sky being broadly and heavily clouded, and land and sea, in consequence, being generally overspread with a sombre gloom. But the sunshine, somehow or other, found its way between the interstices of the clouds, and illuminated some of the distant objects very vividly. The white sails of a ship caught it, and gleamed brilliant as sunny snow, the hull being scarcely visible, and the sea around dark; other smaller vessels too, so that they looked like heavenly-winged things just alighting on a dismal world. Shifting their sails, perhaps, or going on another tack, they almost disappear at once in the obscure distance. Islands are seen in summer sunshine and green glory; their rocks also sunny and their beaches white; while other islands, for no apparent reason, are in deep shade, and share the gloom of the rest of the world. Sometimes part of an island is illuminated and part dark. When the sunshine falls on a very distant island, nearer ones being in shade, it seems greatly to extend the bounds of visible space, and put the horizon to a farther distance. The sea roughly rushing against the shore, and dashing against the rocks, and grating back over the sands. A boat a little way from the shore, tossing and swinging at anchor. Beach birds flitting from place to place.

The family seat of the Hawthornes is Wigcastle, Wigton, Wiltshire. The present head of the family, now residing there, is Hugh Hawthorne. William Hawthorne, who came over in 1635-6, was a younger brother of the family.

A young man and girl meet together, each in search of a person to be known by some particular sign. They watch and wait a great while for that person to pass. At last some casual circumstance discloses that each is the one that the other is waiting for. Moral, —that what we need for our happiness is often close at hand, if we knew but how to seek for it.

The journal of a human heart for a single day in ordinary circumstances. The lights and shadows that flit across it; its internal vicissitudes.

Distrust to be thus exemplified: — Various good and desirable things to be presented to a young man, and offered to his acceptance, — as a friend, a wife, a fortune; but he to refuse them all, suspecting that it is merely a delusion. Yet all to be real, and he to be told so, when too late.

A man tries to be happy in love; he cannot sincerely give his heart, and the affair seems all a dream. In domestic life, the same; in politics, a seeming patriot; but still he is sincere, and all seems like a theatre.

An old man, on a summer day, sits on a hill-top, or on the observatory of his house, and sees the sunshine pass from one object to another connected with the events of his past life, — as the school-house, the place where his wife lived in her maidenhood, — its setting beams falling on the churchyard.

An idle man’s pleasures and occupations and thoughts during a day spent by the seashore: among them, that of sitting on the top of a cliff, and throwing stones at his own shadow, far below.

A blind man to set forth on a walk through ways unknown to him, and to trust to the guidance of anybody who will take the trouble; the different characters who would undertake it: some mischievous, some well-meaning, but incapable; perhaps one blind man undertakes to lead another. At last, possibly, he rejects all guidance, and blunders on by himself.

In the cabinet of the Essex Historical Society, old portraits. — Governor Leverett; a dark moustachioed face, the figure two-thirds length, clothed in a sort of frock coat, buttoned, and a broad sword-belt girded round the waist, and fastened with a large steel buckle; the hilt of the sword steel, — altogether very striking. Sir William Pepperell in English regimentals, coat, waistcoat, and breeches, all of red broadcloth, richly gold-embroidered; he holds a general’s truncheon in his right hand, and extends the left towards the batteries erected against Louisbourg, in the country near which he is standing. Endicott, Pyncheon, and others, in scarlet robes, bands, &c. Half a dozen or more family portraits of the Olivers, some in plain dresses, brown, crimson, or claret; others with gorgeous gold-embroidered waistcoats, descending almost to the knees, so as to form the most conspicuous article of dress. Ladies, with lace ruffles, the painting of which, in one of the pictures, cost five guineas. Peter Oliver, who was crazy, used to fight with these family pictures in the old Mansion House; and the face and breast of one lady bear cuts and stabs inflicted by him. Miniatures in oil, with the paint peeling off, of stern, old, yellow faces. Oliver Cromwell, apparently an old picture, half length or one third, in an oval frame, probably painted for some New England partisan. Some pictures that had been partly obliterated by scrubbing with sand. The dresses, embroidery, laces of the Oliver family are generally better done than the faces. Governor Leverett’s gloves, — the glove-part of coarse leather, but round the wrist a deep three or four inch border of spangles and silver embroidery. Old drinking-glasses, with tall stalks. A black glass bottle, stamped with the name of Philip English, with a broad bottom. The baby-linen, &c. of Governor Bradford of Plymouth colony. Old manuscript sermons, some written in shorthand, others in a hand that seems learnt from print.

Nothing gives a stronger idea of old worm-eaten aristocracy—of a family being crazy with age, and of its being time that it was extinct—than these black, dusty, faded, antique-dressed portraits, such as those of the Oliver family; the identical old white wig of an ancient minister producing somewhat the impression that his very scalp, or some other portion of his personal self, would do.

The excruciating agonies which Nature inflicts on men (who break her laws) to be represented as the work of human tormentors; as the gout, by screwing the toes. Thus we might find that worse than the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition are daily suffered without exciting notice.

Suppose a married couple fondly attached to one another, and to think that they lived solely for one another; then it to be found out that they were divorced, or that they might separate if they chose. What would be its effect?

* * *

Monday, August 27th. — Went to Boston last Wednesday. Remarkables: — An author at the American Stationers’ Company, slapping his hand on his manuscript, and crying, “I’m going to publish.” — An excursion aboard a steamboat to Thompson’s Island, to visit the Manual Labor School for boys. Aboard the steamboat several poets and various other authors; a Commodore, — Colton, a small, dark brown, sickly man, with a good deal of roughness in his address; Mr. Waterston, talking poetry and philosophy. Examination and exhibition of the boys, little tanned agriculturists. After examination, a stroll round the island, examining the products, as wheat in sheaves on the stubble-field; oats, somewhat blighted and spoiled; great pumpkins elsewhere; pastures; mowing ground; — all cultivated by the boys. Their residence, a great brick building, painted green, and standing on the summit of a rising ground, exposed to the winds of the bay. Vessels flitting past; great ships, with intricacy of rigging and various sails; schooners, sloops, with their one or two broad sheets of canvas: going on different tacks, so that the spectator might think that there was a different wind for each vessel, or that they scudded across the sea spontaneously, whither their own wills led them. The farm boys remain insulated, looking at the passing show, within sight of the city, yet having nothing to do with it; beholding their fellow-creatures skimming by them in winged machines, and steamboats snorting and puffing through the waves. Methinks an island would be the most desirable of all landed property, for it seems like a little world by itself; and the water may answer instead of the atmosphere that surrounds planets. The boys swinging, two together, standing up, and almost causing the ropes and their bodies to stretch out horizontally. On our departure, they ranged themselves on the rails of the fence, and, being dressed in blue, looked not unlike a flock of pigeons.

On Friday, a visit to the Navy Yard at Charlestown, in company with the Naval Officer of Boston, and Cilley. Dined aboard the revenue cutter Hamilton. A pretty cabin, finished off with bird’s-eye maple and mahogany; two looking-glasses. Two officers in blue frocks, with a stripe of lace on each shoulder. Dinner, chowder, fried fish, corned beef, — claret, afterwards champagne. The waiter tells the Captain of the cutter that Captain Percival (Commander of the Navy Yard) is sitting on the deck of the anchor hoy, (which lies inside of the cutter,) smoking his cigar. The Captain sends him a glass of champagne, and inquires of the waiter what Percival says to it. “He said, sir, ‘What does he send me this damned stuff for?’ but drinks, nevertheless.” The Captain characterizes Percival as the roughest old devil that ever was in his manners, but a kind, good-hearted man at bottom. By and by comes in the steward. “Captain Percival is coming aboard of you, sir.” “Well, ask him to walk down into the cabin”; and shortly down comes old Captain Percival, a white-haired, thin-visaged, weather-worn old gentleman, in a blue Quaker-cut coat, with tarnished lace and brass buttons, a pair of drab pantaloons, and, brown waistcoat. There was an eccentric expression in his face, which seemed partly wilful, partly natural. He has not risen to his present rank in the regular line of the profession; but entered the navy as a sailing-master, and has all the roughness of that class of officers. Nevertheless, he knows how to behave and to talk like a gentleman. Sitting down, and taking in hand a glass of champagne, he began a lecture on economy, and how well it was that Uncle Sam had a broad back, being compelled to bear so many burdens as were laid on it, — alluding to the table covered with wine-bottles. Then he spoke of the fitting up of the cabin with expensive woods, — of the brooch in Captain Scott’s bosom. Then he proceeded to discourse of politics, taking the opposite side to Cilley, and arguing with much pertinacity. He seems to have moulded and shaped himself to his own whims, till a sort of rough affectation has become thoroughly imbued throughout a kindly nature. He is full of antique prejudices against the modern fashions of the younger officers, their moustaches and such fripperies, and prophesies little better than disgrace in case of another war; owning that the boy would fight for their country, and die for her, but denying that there are any officers now like Hull and Stuart, whose exploits, nevertheless, he greatly depreciated, saying that the Boxer and Enterprise fought the only equal battle which we won during the war; and that, in that action, an officer had proposed to haul down the stars and stripes, and a common sailor threatened to cut him to pieces, if he should do so. He spoke of Bainbridge as a sot and a poltroon, who wanted to run from the Macedonian, pretending to take her for a line-of-battle ship; of Commodore Elliot as a liar; but praised Commodore Downes in the highest terms. Percival seems to be the very pattern of old integrity; taking as much care of Uncle Sam’s interests as if all the money expended were to come out of his own pocket. This quality was displayed in his resistance to the demand of a new patent capstan for the revenue-cutter, which, however, Scott is resolved in such a sailor-like way to get, that he will probably succeed. Percival spoke to me of how his business in the yard absorbed him, especially the fitting of the Columbus seventy-four, of which ship he. discoursed with great enthusiasm. He seems to have no ambition beyond his present duties, perhaps never had any; at any rate, he now passes his life with a sort of gruff contentedness, grumbling and growling, yet in good humor enough. He is conscious of his peculiarities; for when I asked him whether it would be well to make a naval officer Secretary of the Navy, he said, “God forbid, for that an old sailor was always full of prejudices and stubborn whim-whams,” instancing himself; whereto I agreed. We went round the Navy Yard with Percival and Commodore Downes, the latter a sailor and a gentleman too, with rather more of the ocean than the drawing-room about him, but courteous, frank, and good-natured. We looked at rope-walks, rigging-lofts, ships in the stocks; and saw the sailors of the station laughing and sporting with great mirth and cheerfulness, which the Commodore said was much increased at sea. We returned to the wharf at Boston in the cutter’s boat. Captain Scott, of the cutter, told me a singular story of what occurred during the action between the Constitution and Macedonian, — he being powder-monkey aboard the former ship. A cannon-shot came through the ship’s side, and a man’s head was struck off, probably by a splinter, for it was done without bruising the head or body, as clean as by a razor. Well, the man was walking pretty briskly at the time of the accident; and Scott seriously affirmed that he kept walking onward at the same pace, with two jets of blood gushing from his headless trunk, till, after going about twenty feet without a head, he sunk down at once, with his legs under him.

On Saturday, I called to see E. H—— having previously appointed a meeting for the purpose of inquiring about our name. He is an old bachelor, and truly forlorn. The pride of ancestry seems to be his great hobby. He had a good many old papers in his desk at the Custom-House, which he produced and dissertated upon, and afterwards went with me to his sister’s, and showed me an old book, with a record of the children of the first emigrant, (who came over two hundred years ago,) in his own handwriting. E——’s manners are gentlemanly, and he seems to be very well informed. At a little distance, I think, one would take him to be not much over thirty; but nearer at hand one finds him to look rather venerable, — perhaps fifty or more. He is nervous, and his hands shook while he was looking over the papers, as if he had been startled by my visit; and when we came to the crossings of streets, he darted across, cautioning me, as if both were in great danger to be run over. Nevertheless, being very quick-tempered, he would face the Devil if at all irritated. He gave a most forlorn description of his life; how, when he came to Salem, there was nobody except Mr. —— whom he cared about seeing; how his position prevented him from accepting of civilities, because he had no home where he could return them; in short, he seemed about as miserable a being as is to be found anywhere, lonely, — and with sensitiveness to feel his loneliness, and capacities, now withered, to nave enjoyed the sweets of life. I suppose he is comfortable enough when busied in his duties at the Custom-House; for when I spoke to him at my entrance, he was too much absorbed to hear me at first As we walked, he kept telling stories of the family, which seemed to have comprised many oddities, eccentric men and women, recluses and other kinds, — one of old Philip English, (a Jersey man, the name originally L’Anglais,) who had been persecuted by John Hawthorne, of witch-time memory, and a violent quarrel ensued. When Philip lay on his death-bed, he consented to forgive his persecutor; “But if I get well,” said he, “I’ll be damned if I forgive him!” This Philip left daughters, one of whom married, I believe, the son of the persecuting John, and thus all the legitimate blood of English is in our family. E—— passed from the matters of birth, pedigree, and ancestral pride to give vent to the most arrant democracy and locofocoism that I ever happened to hear, saying that nobody ought to possess wealth longer than his own life, and that then it should return to the people, &c. He says old S. I—— has a great fund of traditions about the family, which she learned from her mother or grandmother, (I forget which,) one of them being a Hawthorne. The old lady was a very proud woman, and, as E—— says, “proud of being proud,” and so is S. I——.

* * *

October 7th, 1837. — A walk in Northfields in the afternoon. Bright sunshine and autumnal warmth, giving a sensation quite unlike the same degree of warmth in summer. Oaks, — some brown, some reddish, some still green; walnuts, yellow, — fallen leaves and acorns lying beneath; the footsteps crumple them in walking. In sunny spots beneath the trees, where green grass is overstrewn by the dry, fallen foliage, as I passed I disturbed multitudes of grasshoppers basking in the warm sunshine; and they began to hop, hop, hop, pattering on the dry leaves like big and heavy drops of a thunder-shower. They were invisible till they hopped. Boys gathering walnuts. Passed an orchard, where two men were gathering the apples. A wagon, with barrels, stood among the trees; the men’s coats flung on the fence; the apples lay in heaps, and each of the men was up in a separate tree. They conversed together in loud voices, which the air caused to ring still louder, jeering each other, boasting of their own feats in shaking down the apples. One got into, the very top of his tree, and gave a long and mighty shake, and the big apples came down thump, thump, bushels hitting on the ground at once. “There! did you ever hear anything like that?” cried he. This sunny scene was pretty. A horse feeding apart, belonging to the wagon. The barberry-bushes have some red fruit on them, but they are frost-bitten. The rose-bushes have their scarlet hips.

Distant clumps of trees, now that the variegated foliage adorns them, have a phantasmagorian, an apparition-like appearance. They seem to be of some kindred to the crimson and gold cloud-islands. It would not be strange to see phantoms peeping forth from their recesses. When the sun was almost below the horizon, his rays, gilding the upper branches of a yellow walnut-tree, had an airy and beautiful effect, — the gentle contrast between the tint of the yellow in the shade, and its ethereal gold in the fading sunshine. The woods that crown distant uplands were seen to great advantage in these last rays, for the sunshine perfectly marked out and distinguished every shade of color, varnishing them as it were; while, the country round, both hill and plain, being in gloomy shadow, the woods looked the brighter for it.

The tide, being high, had flowed almost into the Cold Spring, so its small current hardly issued forth from the basin. As I approached, two little eels, about as long as my finger, and slender in proportion, wriggled out of the basin. They had come from the salt water. An Indian-corn field, as yet unharvested, — huge, golden pumpkins scattered among the hills of corn, — a noble-looking fruit. After the sun was down, the sky was deeply dyed with a broad sweep of gold, high towards the zenith; not flaming brightly, but of a somewhat dusky gold. A piece of water extending towards the west, between high banks, caught the reflection, and appeared like a sheet of brighter and more glistening gold than the sky which made it bright.

Dandelions and blue flowers are still growing in sunny places. Saw in a barn a prodigious treasure of onions in their silvery coats, exhaling a penetrating perfume.

How exceeding bright looks the sunshine, casually reflected from a looking-glass into a gloomy region of the chamber, distinctly marking out the figures and colors of the paper hangings, which are scarcely seen elsewhere. It is like the light of mind thrown on an obscure subject.

Man’s finest workmanship, the closer you observe it, the more imperfections it shows; as in a piece of polished steel a microscope will discover a rough surface. Whereas, what may look coarse and rough in Nature’s workmanship will show an infinitely minute perfection, the closer you look into it. The reason of the minute superiority of Nature’s work over man’s is, that the former works from the innermost germ, while the latter works merely superficially.

Standing in the cross-road that leads by the Mineral Spring, and looking towards an opposite shore of the lake, an ascending bank, with a dense border of trees, green, yellow, red, russet, all bright colors, brightened by the mild brilliancy of the descending sun; it was strange to recognize the sober old friends of spring and summer in this new dress. By the by, a pretty riddle or fable might be made out of the changes in apparel of the familiar trees round a house, adapted for children. But in the lake, beneath the aforesaid border of trees, — the water being, not rippled, but its glassy surface somewhat moved and shaken by the remote agitation of a breeze that was breathing on the outer lake, — this being in a sort of bay, — in the slightly agitated mirror, the variegated trees were reflected dreamily and indistinctly; a broad belt of bright and diversified colors shining in the water beneath. Sometimes the image of a tree might be almost traced; then nothing but this sweep of broken rainbow. It was like the recollection of the real scene in an observer’s mind, — a confused radiance.

A whirlwind, whirling the dried leaves round in a circle, not very violently.

To well consider the characters of a family of persons in a certain condition, — in poverty, for instance, — and endeavor to judge how an altered condition would affect the character of each.

The aromatic odor of peat smoke in the sunny autumnal air is very pleasant.

* * *

Salem, October 14th, 1837. — A walk through Beverly to Browne’s Hill, and home by the iron factory. A bright, cool afternoon. The trees, in a large part of the space through which I passed, appeared to be in their fullest glory, bright red, yellow, some of a tender green, appearing at a distance as if bedecked with new foliage, though this emerald tint was likewise the effect of frost. In some places, large tracts of ground were covered as with a scarlet cloth, — the underbrush being thus colored. The general character of these autumnal colors is not gaudy, scarcely gay; there is something too deep and rich in it: it is gorgeous and magnificent, but with a sobriety diffused. The pastures at the foot of Browne’s Hill were plentifully covered with barberry-bushes, the leaves of which were reddish, and they were hung with a prodigious quantity of berries. From the summit of the hill, looking down a tract of woodland at a considerable distance, so that the interstices between the trees could not be seen, their tops presented an unbroken level, and seemed somewhat like a richly variegated carpet. The prospect from the hill is wide and interesting; but methinks it is pleasanter in the more immediate vicinity of the bill than miles away. It is agreeable to look down at the square patches of corn-field, or of potato-ground, or of cabbages still green, or of beets looking red, — all a man’s farm, in short, — each portion of which he considers separately so important, while you take in the whole at a glance. Then to cast your eye over so many different establishments at once, and rapidly compare them, — here a house of gentility, with shady old yellow-leaved elms hanging around it; there a new little white dwelling; there an old farm-house; to see the barns and sheds and all the outhouses clustered together; to comprehend the oneness and exclusiveness and what constitutes the peculiarity of each of so many establishments, and to have in your mind a multitude of them, each of which is the most important part of the world to those who live in it, — this really enlarges the mind, and you come down the hill somewhat wiser than you go up. Pleasant to look over an orchard far below, and see the trees, each casting its own shadow; the white spires of meeting-houses; a sheet of water, partly seen among swelling lands. This Browne’s Hill is a long ridge, lying in the midst of a large, level plain; it looks at a distance somewhat like a whale, with its head and tail under water. but its immense back protruding, with steep sides, and a gradual curve along its length. When you have climbed it on one side, and gaze from the summit at the other, you feel as if you had made a discovery, — the landscape being quite different on the two sides. The cellar of the house which formerly crowned the hill, and used to be named Browne’s Folly, still remains, two grass-grown and shallow hollows, on the highest part of the ridge. The house consisted of two wings, each perhaps sixty feet in length, united by a middle part, in which was the entrance-hall, and which looked lengthwise along the hill. The foundation of a spacious porch may be traced on either side of the central portion; some of the stones still remain; but even where they are gone, the line of the porch is still traceable by the greener verdure. In the cellar, or rather in the two cellars, grow one or two barberry-bushes, with frost-bitten fruit; there is also yarrow with its white flower, and yellow dandelions. The cellars are still deep enough to shelter a person, all but his head at least, from the wind on the summit of the hill; but they are all grass-grown. A line of trees seems to have been planted along the ridge of the hill. The edifice must have made quite a magnificent appearance.

Characteristics during the walk: — Apple-trees with only here and there an apple on the boughs, among the thinned leaves, the relics of a gathering. In others you observe a rustling, and see the boughs shaking and hear the apples thumping down, without seeing the person who does it. Apples scattered by the wayside, some with pieces bitten out, others entire, which you pick up, and taste, and find them harsh, crabbed cider-apples, though they have a pretty, waxen appearance. In sunny spots of woodland, boys in search of nuts, looking picturesque among the scarlet and golden foliage. There is something in this sunny autumnal atmosphere that gives a peculiar effect to laughter and joyous voices, — it makes them infinitely more elastic and gladsome than at other seasons. Heaps of dry leaves, tossed together by the wind, as if for a couch and lounging-place for the weary traveller, while the sun is warming it for him. Golden pumpkins and squashes, heaped in the angle of a house, till they reach the lower windows. Ox-teams, laden with a rustling load of Indian corn, in the stalk and ear. When an inlet of the sea runs far up into the country, you stare to see a large schooner appear amid the rural landscape; she is unloading a cargo of wood, moist with rain or salt water that has dashed over it. Perhaps you hear the sound of an axe in the woodland; occasionally, the report of a fowling-piece. The travellers in the early part of the afternoon look warm and comfortable, as if taking a summer drive; but as eve draws nearer, you meet them well wrapped in top-coats or cloaks, or rough, great surtouts, and red-nosed withal, seeming to take no great comfort, but pressing homeward. The characteristic conversation among teamsters and country squires, where the ascent of a hill causes the chaise to go at the same pace as an ox-team, — perhaps discussing the qualities of a yoke of oxen. The cold, blue aspects of sheets of water. Some of the country shops with the doors closed; others still open as in summer. I meet a wood-sawyer, with his horse and saw on his shoulders, returning from work. As night draws on, you begin to see the gleaming of fires on the ceilings in the houses which you pass. The comfortless appearance of houses at bleak and bare spots, — you wonder how there can be any enjoyment in them. I meet a girl in a chintz gown, with a small shawl on her shoulders, white stockings, and summer morocco shoes, — it looks observable. Turkeys, queer, solemn objects, in black attire, grazing about, and trying to peck the fallen apples, which slip away from their bills.

* * *

October 16th, 1837. — Spent the whole afternoon in a ramble to the sea-shore, near Phillips’s Beach. A beautiful, warm, sunny afternoon, the very pleasantest day, probably, that there has been in the whole course of the year. People at work, harvesting, without their coats. Cocks, with their squad of hens, in the grass-fields, hunting grasshoppers, chasing them eagerly with outspread wings, appearing to take much interest in the sport, apart from the profit. Other hens picking up the ears of Indian corn. Grasshoppers, flies, and flying insects of all sorts, are more abundant in these warm autumnal days than I have seen them at any other time. Yellow butterflies flutter about in the sunshine, singly, by pairs, or more, and are wafted on the gentle gales. The crickets begin to sing early in the afternoon, and sometimes a locust may be heard. In some warm spots, a pleasant buzz of many insects.

Crossed the fields near Brookhouse’s villa, and came upon a long beach, — at least a mile long, I should think, — terminated by craggy rocks at either end, and backed by a high, broken bank, the grassy summit of which, year by year, is continually breaking away, and precipitated to the bottom. At the foot of the bank, in some parts, is a vast number of pebbles and paving-stones, rolled up thither by the sea long ago. The beach is of a brown sand, with hardly any pebbles intermixed upon it. When the tide is part way down, there is a margin of several yards from the water’s edge, along the whole mile length of the beach, which glistens like a mirror, and reflects objects, and shines bright in the sunshine, the sand being wet to that distance from the water. Above this margin the sand is not wet, and grows less and less damp the farther towards the bank you keep. In some places your footstep is perfectly implanted, showing the whole shape, and the square toe, and every nail in the heel of your boot. Elsewhere, the impression is imperfect, and even when you stamp, you cannot imprint the whole. As you tread, a dry spot flashes around your step, and grows moist as you lift your foot again. Pleasant to pass along this extensive walk, watching the surf-wave; — how sometimes it seems to make a feint of breaking, but dies away ineffectually, merely kissing the strand; then, after many such abortive efforts, it gathers itself, and forms a high wall, and rolls onward, heightening and heightening, without foam at the summit of the green line, and at last throws itself fiercely on the beach, with a loud roar, the spray flying above. As you walk along, you are preceded by a flock of twenty or thirty beach birds, which are seeking, I suppose, for food on the margin of the surf, yet seem to be merely sporting, chasing the sea as it retires, and running up before the impending wave. Sometimes they let it bear them off their feet, and float lightly on its breaking summit: sometimes they flutter and seem to rest on the feathery spray. They are little birds with gray hacks and snow-white breasts; their images may be seen in the wet sand almost or full as distinctly as the reality. Their legs are long. As you draw near, they take a flight of a score of yards or more, and then recommence their dalliance with the surf-wave. You may behold their multitudinous little tracks all along your way. Before you reach the end of the beach, you become quite attached to these little sea-birds, and take much interest in their occupations. After passing in one direction, it is pleasant then to retrace your footsteps. Your tracks being all traceable, you may recall the whole mood and occupation of your mind during your first passage. Here you turned somewhat aside to pick up a shell that you saw nearer the water’s edge. Here you examined a long sea-weed, and trailed its length after you for a considerable distance. Here the effect of the wide sea struck you suddenly. Here you fronted the ocean, looking at a sail, distant in the sunny blue. Here you looked at some plant on the bank. Here some vagary of mind seems to have bewildered you; for your tracks go round and round, and interchange each other without visible reason. Here you picked up pebbles and skipped them upon the water. Here you wrote names and drew faces with a razor sea-shell in the sand.

After leaving the beach, clambered over crags, all shattered and tossed about everyhow; in some parts curiously worn and hollowed out, almost into caverns. The rock, shagged with sea-weed, — in some places, a thick carpet of sea-weed laid over the pebbles, into which your foot would sink. Deep tanks among these rocks, which the sea replenishes at high tide, and then leaves the bottom all covered with various sorts of sea-plants, as if it were some sea-monsters private garden. I saw a crab in one of them; five-fingers too. From the edge of the rocks, you may look off into deep, deep water, even at low tide. Among the rocks, I found a great bird, whether a wild-goose, a loon, or an albatross, I scarcely know. It was in such a position that I almost fancied it might be asleep, and therefore drew near softly, lest it should take flight; but it was dead, and stirred not when I touched it. Sometimes a dead fish was cast up. A ledge of rocks, with a beacon upon it, looking like a monument erected to those who have perished by shipwreck. The smoked, extempore fireplace, where a party cooked their fish. About midway on the beach, a fresh-water brooklet flows towards the sea. Where it leaves the land, it is quite a rippling little current; but in flowing across the sand, it grows shallower and more shallow, and at last is quite lost, and dies in the effort to carry its little tribute to the main.

An article to be made of telling the stories of the tiles of an old-fashioned chimney-piece to a child.

A person conscious that he was soon to die, the humor in which he would pay his last visit to familiar persons and things.

A description of the various classes of hotels and taverns, and the prominent personages in each. There should be some story connected with it, — as of a person commencing with boarding at a great hotel, and gradually, as his means grew less, descending in life, till he got below ground into a cellar.

A person to be in the possession of something as perfect as mortal man has a right to demand; he tries to make it better, and ruins it entirely.

A person to spend all his life and splendid talents in trying to achieve something naturally impossible, — as to make a conquest over Nature.

Meditations about the main gas-pipe of a great city, — if the supply were to be stopped, what would happen? How many different scenes it sheds light on? It might be made emblematical of something.

* * *

December 6th, 1837. — A fairy tale about chasing Echo to her hiding-place. Echo is the voice of a reflection in a mirror.

A house to be built over a natural spring of inflammable gas, and to be constantly illuminated therewith. What moral could be drawn from this? It is carburetted hydrogen gas, and is cooled from a soft shale or slate, which is sometimes bituminous, and contains more or less carbonate of lime. It appears in the vicinity of Lockport and Niagara Falls, and elsewhere in New York. I believe it indicates coal. At Fredonia, the whole village is lighted by it. Elsewhere, a farm-house was lighted by it, and no other fuel used in the coldest weather.

Gnomes, or other mischievous little fiends, to be represented as burrowing in the hollow teeth of some person who has subjected himself to their power. It should be a child’s story. This should be one of many modes of petty torment. They should be contrasted with beneficent fairies, who minister to the pleasures of the good.

A man will undergo great toil and hardship for ends that must be many years distant, — as wealth or fame, — but none for an end that may be close at hand, — as the joys of heaven.

Insincerity in a man’s own heart must make all his enjoyments, all that concerns him, unreal; so that his whole life must seem like a merely dramatic representation. And this would be the case, even though he were surrounded by true-hearted relatives and friends.

A company of men, none of whom have anything worth hoping for on earth, yet who do not look forward to anything beyond earth!

Sorrow to be personified, and its effect on a family represented by the way in which the members of the family regard this dark-clad and sad-browed inmate.

A story to show how we are all wronged and wrongers, and avenge one another.

To personify winds of various characters.

A man living a wicked life in one place, and simultaneously a virtuous and religious one in another.

An ornament to be worn about the person of a lady, — as a jewelled heart. After many years, it happens to be broken or unscrewed, and a poisonous odor comes out.

Lieutenant F. W—— of the navy was an inveterate duellist and an unerring shot. He had taken offence at Lieutenant F——, and endeavored to draw him into a duel, following him to the Mediterranean for that purpose, and harassing him intolerably. At last, both parties being in Massachusetts, F—— determined to fight, and applied to Lieutenant A—— to be his second. A—— examined into the merits of the quarrel, and came to the conclusion that F—— had not given F. W—— justifiable cause for driving him to a duel, and that he ought not to be shot. He instructed F—— in the use of the pistol, and, before the meeting, warned him, by all means, to get the first fire; for that, if F. W—— fired first, he, F——, was infallibly a dead man, as his antagonist could shoot to a hair’s breadth. The parties met; and F——, firing immediately on the word’s being given, shot F. W—— through the heart. F. W——, with a most savage expression of countenance, fired, after the bullet had gone through his heart, and when the blood had entirely left his face, and shot away one of F——’s side-locks. His face probably looked as if he were already in the infernal regions; but afterwards it assumed an angelic calmness and repose.

A company of persons to drink a certain medicinal preparation, which would prove a poison, or the contrary, according to their different characters.

Many persons, without a consciousness of so doing, to contribute to some one end; as to a beggar’s feast, made up of broken victuals from many tables; or a patch carpet, woven of shreds from innumerable garments.

Some very famous jewel or other thing, much talked of all over the world. Some person to meet with it, and get possession of it in some unexpected manner, amid homely circumstances.

To poison a person or a party of persons with the sacramental wine.

A cloud in the shape of an old woman kneeling, with arms extended towards the moon.

On being transported to strange scenes, we feel as if all were unreal. This is but the perception of the true unreality of earthly things, made evident by the want of congruity between ourselves and them. By and by we become mutually adapted, and the perception is lost.

An old looking-glass. Somebody finds out the secret of making all the images that have been reflected in it pass back again across its surface.

Our Indian races having reared no monuments, like the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, when they have disappeared from the earth, their history will appear a fable, and they misty phantoms.

A woman to sympathize with all emotions, but to have none of her own.

A portrait of a person in New England to be recognized as of the same person represented by a portrait in Old England. Having distinguished himself there, he had suddenly vanished, and had never been heard of till he was thus discovered to be identical with a distinguished man in New England.

This is part four of a twelve-part series.
Read part one here, two here, part three here, part five here,
part six here, part seven here, part eight here, part nine here,
part ten here, part eleven here, and part twelve here.