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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1839


 

The ATLANTIC MONTHLY:

A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics

Vol. LXXVII.--JANUARY, 1896.--No. CCCCLIX.

 

One of Hawthorne's Unprinted Note-Books

 

[THE following fragment of a diary is contained in a small leather-bound memorandum book, marked on the cover "Scrap-Book, 1839." The period covered is a brief portion of Hawthorne's service as weigher and gauger in the Boston Custom House, a position to which he was appointed by George Bancroft, at that time collector of the port.]

[1839]

February 7th, 1839. Yesterday and day before, measuring a load of coal from the schooner Thomas Lowder, of St. John's, N.B. A little, black, dirty vessel. The coal stowed in the hold, so as to fill the schooner full, and make her a solid mass of black mineral. The master, Best, a likely young man; his mate a fellow jabbering in some strange gibberish, English I believe--or nearer that than anything else--but gushing out all together--whole sentences confounded into one long, unintelligible word. Irishmen shovelling the coal into the two Custom House tubs, to be craned out of the hold, and others wheeling it away in barrows, to be laden into wagons. The first day, I walked the wharf, suffering not a little from cold; yesterday, I sat in the cabin whence I could look through the interstices of the bulkhead, or whatever they call it, into the hold. My eyes, what a cabin! Three paces would more than measure it in any direction, and it was filled with barrels, not clean and new, but black, and containing probably the provender of the vessel; jugs, firkins, the cook's utensils and kitchen furniture--everything grimy and sable with coal dust. There were two or three tiers of berths; and the blankets, etc. are not to be thought of. A cooking stove, wherein was burning some of the coal--excellent fuel, burning as freely as wood, and without the bituminous melting of Newcastle coal. The cook of the vessel, grimy, unshaven, middle-aged man, trimming the fire at need, and sometimes washing his dishes in water that seemed to have cleansed the whole world beforehand--the draining of gutters, or caught at sink-spouts. In the cessations of labor the Irishmen in the hold would poke their heads through the open space into the cabin and call "Cook!"--for a drink of water or a pipe--whereupon Cook would fill a short black pipe, put coal into it, and stick it into the Irishman's mouth. Here sat I on a bench before the fire, the other guests of the cabin being the Stevedore, who takes the job of getting the coal ashore, and the owner of the horse that raised the tackle--the horse being driven by a boy. The cabin was lined with slabs--the rudest and dirtiest hole imaginable, yet the passengers had been accommodated here in the trip from New Brunswick. The bitter zero atmosphere came down the companion-way, and threw chill over me sometimes, but I was pretty comfortable--though, on reaching home, I found that I had swaggered through several thronged streets with coal streaks on my visage.

The wharfinger's office is a general resort and refuge for people who have business to do on the wharf, in the spaces before work is commenced, between the hours of one and two, etc. A salamander stove--a table of the signals, wharves, and agent of packets plying to and from Boston--a snuff-box--a few chairs--etc. constituting the furniture. A newspaper.

Feby. 11th. Talk at the Custom-House on Temperance. Gibson gives an account of his brother's sore leg, which was amputated. Major Grafton talks of ancestors settling early in Salem--in 1632. Of a swallow's nest, which he observed, year after year, on revisiting his boyhood's residence in Salem, for thirty years. It was so situated under the eaves of the house, that he could put his hand in and feel the young ones. At last, he found the nest gone, and was grieved thereby. Query, whether the descendants of the original builders of the nest inhabited it during the whole thirty years. If so, the family might vie for duration with the majority of human families.

Feby. 15th. At the Custom-House, Mr. Pike told a story of a human skeleton without a head being discovered in High Street, Salem, about eight years ago--I think in digging the foundations of a building. It was about four feet below the surface. He sought information about the mystery of an old traditionary woman of eighty, resident in the neighborhood. She, coming to the spot where the bones were, lifted up her hands and cried out, "So! they've found the rest of the poor Frenchman's bones at last!" Then, with great excitement, she told the bystanders how, some seventy-five years before, a young Frenchman had come from over-seas with a Captain Tanent, and had resided with him in Salem. He was said to be very wealthy, and was gaily apparelled in the fashion of those times. After a while the Frenchman disappeared and Captain Tanent gave out that he had gone to some other place, and been killed there. After two or three years, it was found that the Captain had grown rich; but he squandered his money in dissipated habits, died poor--and there are now none left of the race. Many years afterwards. digging near his habitation, the workmen found a human skull; and it was supposed to be that of the young Frenchman, who was all along supposed to have been murdered by the Captain. They did not seek for the rest of the skeleton; and no more was seen of it till Mr. Pike happened to be present at the discovery. The bone first found was that of the leg. He described it as lying along horizontally, so that the head was under the corner of the house; and now I recollect that they were digging a post-hole when the last discovery was made, and at that of the head they were digging the foundation of the house. The bones did not adhere together, though the shape of a man was plainly discernible. There were no remnants of clothing.

Mr. Pike told furthermore how a lady of truth and respectability--a church member--averred to him that she had seen a ghost. She was sitting with an old gentleman, who was engaged in reading the newspaper; and she saw the figure of a woman advance behind him and look over his shoulder. The narrator then called to the old gentleman to look around. He did so rather pettishly, and said, "Well, what do you want me to look round for?" The figure either vanished or went out of the room, and he resumed the reading of his newspaper. Again the narrator saw the same figure of a woman come in and look over his shoulder, bending forward her head. This time she did not speak, but hemmed so as to attract the old gentleman's attention; and again the apparition vanished. But a third time it entered the room, and glided behind the old gentleman's chair, as before, appearing, I suppose, to glance at the newspaper; and this time, if I mistake not, she nodded, or made some sort of sign to the woman. How the ghost vanished, I do not recollect; but the old gentleman, when told of the matter, answered very scornfully. Nevertheless, it tuned out that his wife had died precisely, allowing for the difference of time caused by distance of place, at the time when this apparition had made its threefold visit.

Mr. Pike is not an utter disbeliever in ghosts, and has had some singular experiences himself:--for instance, he saw, one night, a boy's face, as plainly as ever he saw anything in his life, gazing at him. Another time--or, as I think, two or three other times--he saw the figure of a man standing motionless for half an hour in Norman street, where the headless ghost is said to walk.

Feby. 19th. Mr. Pike is a shortish man, very stoutly built, with a short neck an apoplectic frame. His forehead is marked, but not expansive, though large--I mean, it has not a broad, smooth quietude. His face dark and sallow--ugly, but with a pleasant, kindly, as well as strong and thoughtful expression. Stiff, black hair, which starts bushy and almost erect from his forehead--a heavy, yet very intelligent countenance. He is subject to the asthma, and moreover to a sort of apoplectic fit, which compels [him] to sleep almost as erect as he sits; and if he were to lie down horizontally in bed, he would feel almost sure of one of these fits. When they seize him, he awakes feeling as if [his] head were swelled to enormous size, and on the point of bursting--with great pain. He has his perfect consciousness, but is unable to call for assistance, or make any noise except by blowing forcibly with his mouth, and unless this brings help, he must die. When shaken violently, and lifted to a sitting posture, he recovers. After a fit, he feels a great horror of going to bed again. If one were to seize him at his boarding-house, his chance would be bad, because if any heard his snortings, they would not probably know what was the matter. These two afflictions might seem enough to make one man miserable, yet he appears in pretty fair spirits.

He is a Methodist, has occasionally preached, and believes that he has an assurance of salvation immediate from the Deity. Last Sunday, he says, he gave religious instruction to a class in the State's Prison.

Speaking of his political hostilities, he said that he never could feel ill will against a person when he personally met him, that he was not capable of hatred, but of strong affection,--that he always remembered that "every man once had a mother, and she loved him." A strong, stubborn, kindly nature this.

 

The City-Crier, talking in a familiar style to his auditors--delivering various messages to them, intermixed with his own remarks. He then runs over his memory to see whether he has omitted anything, and recollects a lost child--"We've lost a child," says he; as if, in his universal sympathy for all who have wants, and seek the gratification of them through his medium, he were one with the parents of the child. He then tells the people, whenever they find lost children, not to keep them overnight, but to bring them to his office. "For it is a cruel thing"--to keep them; and at the conclusion of his lecture, he tells them that he has already worn out his lungs, talking to them of these things. He completely personifies the public, and considers it as an individual with whom he holds converse,--he being as important on his side, as they on theirs.

 

An old man fishing on Long Wharf with a pole three or four feet long--just long enough to clear the edge of the wharf. Patched clothes, old, black coat--does not look as if he fished for what he might catch, but as a pastime, yet quite poor and needy looking. Fishing all the afternoon, and takes nothing but a plaice or two, which get quite quite  sun-dried. Sometimes he hauls up his line, with as much briskness as he can, and finds a sculpin on the hook. The boys come around him, and eye his motions, and make pitying or impertinent remarks at his ill-luck--the-old man answers not, but fishes on imperturbably. Anon, he gathers up his clams or worms, and his one sun-baked flounder--you think he is going home--but no, he is merely going to another corner of the wharf, where he throws his line under a vessel's counter, and fishes on with the same deathlike patience as before. He seems not quiet so much as torpid,--not kindly nor unkindly feeling--but not to have anything to do with the rest of the world. He has no business, no amusement, but just to crawl to the end of Long Wharf, and throw his line over. He has no sort of skill in fishing, but a peculiar clumsiness.

Objects on a wharf--a huge pile of cotton bales, from a New Orleans ship, twenty or thirty feet high, as high as a house. Barrels of molasses, in regular ranges; casks of linseed oil. Iron in bars landing from a vessel, and the weigher's scales standing conveniently. To stand on the elevated deck or rail of a ship, and look up the wharf, you see the whole space of it thronged with trucks and carts, removing the cargoes of vessels, or taking commodities to and from stores. Long Wharf is devoted to ponderous, evil-smelling, inelegant necessaries of life--such as salt, salt-fish, oil, iron, molasses, etc.

Near the head of Long Wharf there is an old sloop, which has been converted into a store for the sale of wooden ware, made at Hingham. It is afloat, and is sometimes moored close to the wharf;--or, when another vessel wishes to take its place, midway in the dock. It has been there many years. The storekeeper lives and sleeps on board.

Schooners more than any other vessels seem to have such names as Betsey, Emma-Jane, Sarah, Alice,--being the namesakes of the owner's wife, daughter, or sweet-heart. They are a sort of domestic concern, in which all the family take an interest. Not a cold, stately, unpersonified thing, like a merchant's tall ship, perhaps one of half a dozen, in which he takes pride, but which he does not love, nor has a family feeling for. Now Betsey, or Sarah-Ann, seems like one of the family--something like a cow.

Long flat-boats, taking in salt to carry it up the Merrimack canal, to Concord, in New Hampshire. Contrast and similarities between a stout, likely country fellow, aboard one of these, to whom the scenes of a sea-port are entirely new, but who is brisk, ready, and shrewd in his own way, and the mate of a ship, who has sailed to every port. They talk together, and take to each other.

The brig Tiberius, from an English port, with seventy or thereabouts factory girls, imported to work in our factories. Some pale and delicate-looking; others rugged and coarse. The scene of landing them in boats, at the wharf-stairs, to the considerable display of their legs--whence they are carried off to the Worcester railroad in hacks and omnibuses. Their farewells to the men--Good-bye, John, etc.--with wavings of handkerchiefs as long as they were in sight.

A pert, petulant young clerk, continually fooling with the mate, swearing at the stevedores and laboring men, who regard him not. Somewhat dissipated, probably.

The mate of a coal-vessel--a leathern belt round his waist, sustaining a knife in a leathern sheath. Probably he uses it to eat his dinner with; perhaps also as a weapon.

A young sailor, with an anchor handsomely traced on the back of his hand--a foul anchor--and perhaps other naval insignia on his wrists and breast. He wears a sky-blue silk short jacket, with velvet collar--a bosom-pin, etc.

An old seaman, seventy years of age --he has spent seven years in the British Navy (being of English birth) and nine in ours; has voyaged all over the world--for instance, I asked if he had ever been in the Red Sea, and he had, in the American sloop of war that carried General Eaton, in 1803. His hair is brown--without a single visible grey hair in it; and he would seem not much above fifty. He is of particularly quiet demeanor--but observant of all things, and reflective--a philosopher in a check shirt and sail-cloth trowsers. Giving an impression of the strictest integrity--of inability not to do his duty, and his whole duty. Seemingly, he does not take a very strong interest in the world, being a widower without children; but he feels kindly towards it, and judges mildly of it and enjoys it very tolerably well, although he has so slight a hold on it that it would not trouble him much to give it up. He said he hoped he should die at sea, because then it would be so little trouble to bury him. He is a sceptic,--and when I asked him if he would not wish to live again, he spoke doubtfully and coldly. He said that he had been in England within two or three years--in his native county, Yorkshire--and finding his brother's children in very poor condition, he gave them sixty golden sovereigns. "I have always had too many poor friends," he said, "and that has kept me poor." This old man kept tally of the Alfred Tyler's cargo, on behalf of the Captain, diligently marking all day long, and calling "tally, Sir," to me at every sixth tub. Often would he have to attend to some call of the stevedores, or wheelers, or shovellers--now for a piece of spun-yarn--now for a handspike--now for a hammer, or some nails--now for some of the ship's molasses, to sweeten water--the which the captain afterwards reprehended him for giving. These calls would keep him in about movement enough to give variety to his tallying--he moving quietly about the decks, as if he belonged aboard ship and nowhere else. Then sitting down he would converse (though by no means forward to talk) about the weather, about his recent or former voyages etc., etc., etc., we dodging the intense sun round the main mast.

Nathaniel Hawthorne.

 


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Use as in ?Help? page citation guide.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. &quot;One of Hawthorne's Unprinted Note-Books,&quot; <br />
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<cite>Atlantic Monthly</cite> 77:459, 1-5, Jan. 1896. 23 Sep. 1999. <br />
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &lt;<a href="http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/pfanbam96.html">http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/pfanbam96.html</a>&gt;

(<a href="http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/pfanbam96.html">Hawthorne, 1</a>)

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "One of Hawthorne's Unprinted Note-Books,"

     Atlantic Monthly, 77:459, 1-5, Jan. 1896. 23 Sep. 1999.

      <http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/pfanbam96.html>


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