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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

An audible stillness

Sounds of Hawthorne

A Man of Fancy used the latest and most accurate devices to record some rare and interesting sounds. We play back the sounds here on the fantastic multimedia World Wide Web, thanks to his ears, his pen, our computers, and your imagination. Note that the technology is suitable for listening by hearing-impaired or deaf people as well as by owners of Macintosh computers. But you won't be able to hear the words unless you read them aloud or to your mind's ear.

the cricket

I have forgotten whether the song of the cricket be not as early a token of autumn's approach, as any other;--that song, which may be called an audible stillness; for, though very loud and heard afar, yet the mind does not take note of it as a sound; so completely is its individual existence merged among the accompanying characteristics of the season.

--The Old Manse, 1846.


In the stillest afternoon, if I listened, the thump of a great apple was audible, falling without a breath of wind, from the mere necessity of perfect ripeness.

--The Old Manse, 1846.

Dimmesdale's Election Day sermon

The eloquent voice, on which the souls of the listening audience had been borne aloft, as on the swelling waves of the sea, at length came to a pause. There was a momentary silence, profound as what should follow the utterance of oracles. Then ensued a murmur and half-hushed tumult, as if the auditors, released from the high spell that had transported them into the region of another's mind, were returning into themselves, with all their awe and wonder still heavy on them. In a moment more, the crowd began to gush forth from the doors of the church.

--The Scarlet Letter, 1850.

Hawthorne reads to his wife emotions when I read the last scene of The Scarlet Letter to my wife, just after writing it--tried to read it rather, for my voice swelled and heaved as if I were tossed up and down on an ocean as it subsides after a storm.

--from the English Note-Books (September 14, 1855).

Hawthorne reads to his children

Both Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne seem to have been born good readers; there were music, variety, and expression in every tone, and the charm of feeling that the reader was in sympathy with the reading. While we were in England, Mr. Hawthorne read to us Spenser's "Faerie Queene;" and his children were knights-errant and princesses for years afterwards. Again, two or three years before his death, he read aloud the whole of Walter Scott's novels, taking up the volumes night after night, until all were completed. That, too, was something to remember. All the characters seemed to live and move visibly before us. The expression of his face changed, as he read, in harmony with the speech or the passage. It was very pleasant to see him sitting with a book, he would settle himself comfortably in his chair, and hold the book open in his left hand, his fingers clasping it over the top; and as he read (whether aloud or to himself), there was a constantly recurrent forward movement of his head, which seemed somehow to give distinctness and significance to the sentences and paragraphs, and indicated the constant living rapport between him and the author. These movements were very slight and unobtrusive, but they were among the things which conveyed to the beholder that impression of unfailing spiritual vitality and intellectual comprehensiveness which always characterized Hawthorne.

--from Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, II:1, by Julian Hawthorne, 1884.

Dimmesdale's Farewell

That final word came forth with the minister's expiring breath. The multitude, silent till then, broke out in a strange, deep voice of awe and wonder, which could not as yet find utterance, save in this murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit.

--The Scarlet Letter, 1850.

an ugly, little, venomous serpent of a noise

Round went the busily-revolving machinery, kept in motion by the scissor-grinder's foot, and wore away the hard steel against the hard stone, whence issued an intense and spiteful prolongation of a hiss, as fierce as those emitted by Satan and his compeers in Pandemonium, though squeezed into smaller compass. It was an ugly, little, venomous serpent of a noise, as ever did petty violence to human ears. But Clifford listened with rapturous delight. The sound, however disagreeable, had very brisk life in it, and, together with the circle of curious children watching the revolutions of the wheel, appeared to give him a more vivid sense of active, bustling, and sunshiny existence, than he had attained in almost any other way. Nevertheless, its charm lay chiefly in the past; for the scissor-grinder's wheel had hissed in his childish ears.

--The House of the Seven Gables, 1851.

the organ-grinder of those Italian boys (who are rather a modern feature of our streets) came along with his barrel-organ, and stopped under the wide and cool shadows of the elm. With his quick professional eye, he took note of the two faces watching him from the arched window, and, opening his instrument, began to scatter its melodies abroad. He had a monkey on his shoulder, dressed in a Highland plaid; and, to complete the sum of splendid attractions wherewith he presented himself to the public, there was a company of little figures, whose sphere and habitation was in the mahogany case of his organ, and whose principle of life was the music which the Italian made it his business to grind out.

--The House of the Seven Gables, 1851.


The church-bells, with various tones, but all in harmony, were calling out, and responding to one another--"It is the Sabbath!--The Sabbath!--Yea; the Sabbath!"--and over the whole city the bells scattered the blessed sounds, now slowly, now with livelier joy, now one bell alone, now all the bells together, crying earnestly--"It is the Sabbath!" and flinging their accents afar off, to melt into the air, and pervade it with the holy word. The air, with God's sweetest and tenderest sunshine in it, was meet for mankind to breathe into their hearts, and send it forth again as the utterance of prayer.

--The House of the Seven Gables, 1851.

the rush and roar of the human tide

With a shivering repugnance at the idea of personal contact with the world, a powerful impulse still seized on Clifford, whenever the rush and roar of the human tide grew strongly audible to him. This was made evident, one day, when a political procession, with hundreds of flaunting banners, and drums, fifes, clarions, and cymbals, reverberating between the rows of buildings, marched all through town, and trailed its length of trampling footsteps, and most infrequent uproar, past the ordinarily quiet House of the Seven Gables.

--The House of the Seven Gables, 1851.

the true voice of Niagara

All that night, as there has been and will be, for ages past and to come, a rushing sound was heard, as if a great tempest were sweeping through the air. It mingled with my dreams, and made them full of storm and whirlwind. Whenever I awoke, and heard this dread sound in the air, and the windows rattling as with a mighty blast, I could not rest again, till, looking forth, I saw how bright the stars were, and that every leaf in the garden was motionless. Never was a summer-night more calm to the eye, nor a gale of autumn louder to the ear. The rushing sound proceeds from the rapids, and the rattling of the casements is but an effect of the vibration of the whole house, shaken by the jar of the cataract. The noise of the rapids draws the attention from the true voice of Niagara, which is a dull, muffled thunder, resounding between the cliffs. I spent a wakeful hour at midnight, in distinguishing its reverberations, and rejoiced to find that my former awe and enthusiasm were reviving.

--My Visit to Niagara, 1835.

the original voice and utterance of the natural man

...[Donatello] set about complying with Kenyon's request. The latter, in his concealment among the shrubberies, heard him send forth a sort of modulated breath, wild, rude, yet harmonious. It struck the auditor as at once the strangest and the most natural utterance that had ever reached his ears. Any idle boy, it should seem, singing to himself and setting his wordless song to no other or more definite tune than the play of his own pulses, might produce a sound almost identical with this; and yet, it was as individual as a murmur of the breeze. Donatello tried it, over and over again, with many breaks, at first, and pauses of uncertainty; then with more confidence, and a fuller swell; like a wayfarer groping out of obscurity into the light, and moving with freer footsteps as it brightens around him.

Anon, his voice appeared to fill the air, yet not with an obtrusive clangor. The sound was of a murmurous character, soft, attractive, persuasive, friendly. The sculptor fancied that such might have been the original voice and utterance of the natural man, before the sophistication of the human intellect formed what we now call language. In this broad dialect--broad as the sympathies of nature--the human brother might have spoken to his inarticulate brotherhood that prowl the woods, or soar upon the wing, and have been intelligible to such extent as to win their confidence.

The sound had its pathos too. At some of its simple cadences, the tears came quietly into Kenyon's eyes. They welled up slowly from his heart, which was thrilling with an emotion more delightful than he had often felt before, but which he forbore to analyze, lest, if he seized it, it should at once perish in his grasp.

Donatello paused two or three times, and seemed to listen; then, recommencing, he poured his spirit and life more earnestly into the strain. And, finally--or else the sculptor's hope and imagination deceived him--soft treads were audible upon the fallen leaves. There was a rustling among the shrubbery; a whir of wings, moreover, that hovered in the air. It may have been all an illusion; but Kenyon fancied that he could distinguish the stealthy, catlike movement of some small forest citizen, and that he could even see its doubtful shadow, if not really its substance. But, all at once, whatever might be the reason, there ensued a hurried rush and scamper of little feet; and then the sculptor heard a wild, sorrowful cry, and through the crevices of the thicket beheld Donatello fling himself on the ground.

--The Marble Faun, chapter 27, "Myths", 1860.

the tumult of the pavements

Whatever had been my taste for solitude and natural scenery, yet the thick, foggy, stifled element of cities, the entangled life of many men together, sordid as it was, and empty of the beautiful, took quite as strenuous a hold upon my mind. I felt as if there could never be enough of it. Each characteristic sound was too suggestive to be passed over, unnoticed. Beneath and around me, I heard the stir of the hotel; the loud voices of guests, landlord, or barkeeper; steps echoing on the staircase; the ringing of a bell, announcing arrivals or departures; the porter lumbering past my door with baggage, which he thumped down upon the floors of neighboring chambers; the lighter feet of chamber-maids scudding along the passages;--it is ridiculous to think what an interest they had for me. From the street, came the tumult of the pavements, pervading the whole house with a continual uproar, so broad and deep that only an unaccustomed ear would dwell upon it. A company of the city-soldiery, with a full military band, marched in front of the hotel, invisible to me, but stirringly audible both by its foot-tramp and the clangor of its instruments. Once or twice, all the city-bells jangled together, announcing a fire, which brought out the engine-men and their machines, like an army with its artillery rushing to battle. Hour by hour, the clocks in many steeples responded one to another. In some public hall, not a great way off, there seemed to be an exhibition of a mechanical diorama; for, three times during the day, occurred a repetition of obstreperous music, winding up with the rattle of imitative cannon and musketry, and a huge final explosion. Then ensued the applause of the spectators, with clap of hands, and thump of sticks, and the energetic pounding of their heels. All this was just as valuable, in its way, as the sighing of the breeze among the birch-trees, that overshadowed Eliot's pulpit.

--The Blithedale Romance, 1852.

High fidelity

"Faith!" shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying--"Faith! Faith!" as if bewildered wretches were seeking her, all through the wilderness.

--Young Goodman Brown, 1835.

"Feed on the vocal silence of his eye"

A hundred years ago Henry Vaughan seems almost to have anticipated Hawthorne's appearance when he wrote that beautiful line.

-- James T. Fields, Yesterdays with Authors, 1871.

the hill-top hearsed with pines, the voice so like his own

The faces of familiar faces seemed strange;
Their voices I could hear,
And yet the words they uttered seemed to change
Their meaning to my ear.

For the one face I looked for was not there,
The one low voice was mute;
Only an unseen presence filled the air
And baffled my pursuit.

Now I look back, and meadow, manse, and stream
Dimly my thought defines;
I only see--a dream within a dream--
The hill-top hearsed with pines.

I only hear above his place of rest
Their tender undertone,
The infinite longings of a troubled breast,
The voice so like his own.

--from Longfellow, Hawthorne, May 23, 1864.

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