Monday, March 16, 2015

And Behold, A Living Rubric

Behold, the final paragraphs from "Hawthorne at Concord" exquisitely told by Philip McFarland:




<< "To sit down," a living consciousness had written on a certain Saturday in the fullness of life, twenty years before his death, "in a solitary place (or a busy and bustling one, if you please) and await such little events as may happen, or observe such noticeable points as the eyes fall upon around you. For instance, I sat down to-day--July 27th, 1844, at ten o'clock in the forenoon--in Sleepy Hollow, a shallow space scooped out among the woods." Just turned forty, Hawthorne was then living with his wife and four-month-old daughter at the Manse. Before him in his present solitude was this geologic opening, "pretty nearly circular, or oval, and two or three hundred yards--or perhaps four or five hundred--in diameter." A decade and more would pass before the concavity was made into the town cemetery. For now, nearby were surrounding woods, and a cornfield, and a pathway that knotted oaks overshadowed. Hawthorne would take note of it all: the twigs and decayed leaves on the pathway, the bird chirpings overhead, the "cheerful, sunny hum of the flies...so gladsome that you pardon them their intrusiveness and impertinence." In fact, at this instant a fly was "intent upon alighting on my nose. In my room, now--in a human habitation--I could find in my conscience to put him to death; but here we have intruded upon his own domain, which he holds in common with all other children of earth and 

air--and we have no right to slay him on his own ground."

But there was so much more to see in one quiet interlude, an inexhaustible panorama: last year's acorn chips strewn about, suggesting table services at fairy banquets, oak balls that kittens love to play with on the carpet, mosses, "And how strange is the gradual process with which we detect objects that are right before the eyes; here now are whortleberries, ripe and black, growing actually within reach of my hand, yet unseen till this moment. Were we to sit here all day, a week, a month, and doubtless a lifetime, objects would thus still be presenting themselves as new, though there would seem to be no reason why we should not have detected them all at the first moment." The shadow of a bird flits across a patch of sunlight on the ground. The blue sky, the fragrance of white pine, a breeze sighing with hardly imaginable gentleness, a red squirrel shrilly chirruping--and suddenly a mosquito, about which instinct prevails over "all the nonsense of sentiment; we crush him at once, and there is his grim and grisly corpse, the ugliest object in nature." Then comes the striking of the village clock, a a cow bell tinkling, and the whistle of a locomotive, telling its story of "busy men, citizens, from the hot street."


Yet look even closer at hand. Mushrooms. A colony of anthills. Like some malevolent giant, the observer dribbles grains of sand over the entrance of an ant dwelling. "And, behold, here comes one of the inhabitants, who has been abroad upon some public or private business, or perhaps to enjoy a fantastic walk--and cannot any longer find his own door. What surprise, what hurry, what confusion of mind, are expressed in all his movements! How inexplicable to him must be the agency that has effected this mischief. The incident will probably be long remembered in the annals of the ant-colony, and be talked of in the winter days, when they are making merry over their hoarded provisions."


All of Hawthorne's wonderful achievement would seem to be here in microcosm: the sharp observation, the freshness of insight, the recognition of truth's complexity, the incipient compassion, the wit, the stylistic charm, the story forming that involves dark fate. Yet, he concludes, "how narrow, scanty, and meagre, is this record of observation, compared with the immensity that was to be observed, within the bounds which I prescribed to myself. How shallow and scanty a stream of thought, too.--of distinct and expressed thought--compared with the broad tide of dim emotions, ideas, associations, which were flowing through the haunted regions of imagination, intellect, and sentiment, sometimes excited by what was around me, sometimes with no perceptible connection with them. When we see how little we can express, it is a wonder that any man ever takes up a pen a second time."


To our benefit, this man, Nathaniel Hawthorne, did take up his pen again and wrote The Scarlet Letter, wrote The House of the Seven Gables, here having used it to record a single Concord day, now long dead, that the wonder of his art keeps miraculously alive. >>


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