Scarlet Letter (version 2) | Nathaniel Hawthorne | Literary Fiction | Talkingbook | English | 1/6



section 1 of The Scarlet Letter this is a librivox recording all librivox recordings are in the public domain for more information or to volunteer please visit librivox.org recording by Corey Samuel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne the custom-house introductory to The Scarlet Letter it is a little remarkable that ver disinclined to talk over much of myself and my affairs at the fireside and to my personal friends an autobiographical impulse should twice in my life have taken possession of me in addressing the public the first time was 3 or 4 years since when I favoured the reader inexcusably and for no earthly reason that either the indulgent reader or the intrusive author could imagine with a description of my way of life in the deep quietude of an old man's and now because beyond my desserts i was happy enough to find a listener or two on the former occasion I gained seize the public by the button and talk of my 3 years experience in a custom house the example of the famous P P Clarke of this parish was never more faithfully followed the truth seems to be however but when he casts his leaves forth upon the wind the author addresses not the many who will fling aside his volume will never take it up but the few who will understand him better than most of his schoolmates or life mates some authors indeed do far more than this and indulge themselves in such confidential depths of Revelation as could fittingly be addressed only and exclusively to the one heart and mind of perfect sympathy as if the printed book thrown at large on the wide world was certain to find out the divided segments of the writers own nature and complete his circle of existence by bringing him into communion with it it is scarcely decorous however to speak at all even while we speak in personally but as thoughts of frozen and utterance be numbed unless the speaker stand in some true relation with his audience it may be pardonable to imagine that a friend a kind and apprehensive though nots the closest friend is listening to our talk and then a native reserved being thought by this genial consciousness we may pray to the circumstances that lie around us and even if our self but still keep the inmost me behind its veil to this extent and within these limits and author methinks may be autobiographical without violating either the readers rights or his own it will be seen likewise that this Custom House sketch has a certain propriety of a kind always recognized in literature as explaining how a large portion of the following pages came into my possession and as offering proofs of the authenticity of a narrative therein contained this in fact a desire to put myself in my true position as editor or very little more of the most Pro let's alert make up my volume this and no other is my true reason for assuming a personal relation with the public in accomplishing the main purpose it has appeared allowable by a few extra touches to give a faint representation of a mode of life not heretofore described together with some of the characters that move in it among whom the author happened to make one in my native town of Salem at the head of what half a century ago in the days of old King Derby was a bustling Wharf but which is now burdened with decayed wooden warehouses and exhibits few or no symptoms of commercial life except perhaps a bark or brig halfway down its melancholy length discharging Hyde's or nearer at hand and Nova Scotia schooner pitching out her cargo of firewood at the head I say of this dilapidated Worf which the tide often overflows and a long which at the base and in the rear of the row of buildings the track of many language years as seen in a border of unthrifty grass here with a view from its front windows are down this not very enlivening prospect and vents across the harbor stands a spacious edifice of brick from the loftiest point of its roof during precisely three-and-a-half hours of each forenoon floats or droops in breeze or calm the banner of the republic but with the 13 stripes turned vertically instead of horizontally and thus indicating that a civil and not a military post of uncle sam's government is here established its front is ornamented with a portico of half-a-dozen wooden pillars supporting a balcony beneath which a flight of white granite steps descends towards the street over the entrance hovers an enormous specimen of the american eagle without spread wings a shield before her breasts and if I recollect the right a bunch of intermingles Thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw with the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy fowl she appears by the fierceness of her beak and eye and the general truculence II of her attitude to threaten a mischief to the inoffensive community and especially to warn all citizens careful of their safety against intruding on the premises which she overshadows with her wings nevertheless vixen Lee as she looks many people are seeking at this very moment to shelter themselves under the wing of the Federal Eagle imagining I presume that her bosom has old softness and snugness of an eiderdown pillow but she has no great tenderness even in her best of moods and sooner or later often as soon than late is apt to fling off her nestlings with a scratch of her claw a dab of her beak or rankling wound from her barbed arrows the pavement roundabouts the above described edifice which we may as well name at once as the custom house of the port has grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it is not of late days been worn by any multitudinous resort of business in some months of the year however they're often chances a forenoon when Affairs move onward with a livelier tread such occasions might remind the elderly citizen of that period before the last war with England when Salem was a port by itself not scorned as she is now by her own merchants and ship owners who permits her wharves to crumble to ruin while their ventures go to swell needlessly and imperceptibly the mighty flood of Commerce at New York or Boston on some such morning when three or four vessels happen to have arrived at once usually from Africa or South America ought to be on the verge of their departure through the wood there is a sound of frequent feet passing briskly up and down the granite steps here before his own wife has greeted him you may greet the sea flushed shipmaster just in Port with his vessels papers under his arm in a tarnished tin box here to comes his owner cheerful Samba gracious or in the sulks accordingly as his scheme of the now accomplished voyage has been realized in merchandise that will readily be turned to gold or has buried him under a bulk of in commodities such as nobody will care to rid him of here likewise the germ of the wrinkled proud grizzly bearded careworn merchant we have the smart young clerk who gets the taste of traffic as a wolf cup dose of blood and already sends adventures in his master's ships when he had better be sailing mimic boats upon a Mill Pond another figure in the scene is the outward bound sailor in quest of a protection or the recently arrived one pale and feeble seeking a passport to the hospital nor must we forget the captains of the rusty little schooners that bring firewood from the British provinces a rough-looking set of tarpaulins without the alertness of the Yankee aspect but contributing an item of no slight important to our decaying trade cluster all these individuals together as they sometimes were with other miscellaneous ones to diversify the group and for the time being it made the Custom House a stirring scene more frequently however on ascending the steps you would discern in the entry if it was summertime or in their appropriate rooms if wintry or inclement weather a row of venerable figures sitting in old-fashioned chairs which were tipped on their hind legs back against the wall oftentimes they were asleep but occasionally might be heard talking together in voices between a speech and a snore and with that lack of energy that distinguishes the occupants of arms houses and all other human beings who depend for subsistence on charity on monopolized labor or on anything else but their own independent exertions these old gentleman seated like Matthew at the receipt of custom but not very liable to be summoned thence like him for apostolic errands were custom-house officers furthermore on the left hand as you enter the front door is a certain room or office about 15 feet square and of a lofty height with two of its arched windows commanding a view of the aforesaid lappa dated Wharf and the third looking across a narrow lane and along a portion of Derby Street all three give glimpses of the shops of grocers block makers slop cellars and ship Chandler's around the doors of which are generally to be seen laughing and gossiping clusters are old salts and such other war Frances haunt the Wapping of a seaport the room itself is cobwebbed and dingy with old paint it's floor is strewn with grace and in a fashion that has elsewhere fallen into long disuse and to dis easy to conclude from the general slovenliness of the place that this is a sanctuary into which womankind with her tools of magic the broom and mop has very infrequent access in the way of furniture there is a stove with a voluminous funnel an old pine desk with a three-legged stool beside it two or three wooden bottom chairs exceedingly decrepit and infirm and not to forget the library on some shelves a score or two of volumes of the acts of Congress and a bulky digest of the revenue laws a tin pipe ascends through the ceiling and forms a medium of vocal communication with other parts of the edifice and here some six months ago pacing from corner to corner or lounging on the long legged stool with his elbow on the desk and his eyes wandering up and down the columns of the morning newspaper you might have recognized honored reader the same individual who welcomed you into his cheery little study where the sunshine glimmered so pleasantly through the willow branches on the western side of the old man's but now should you go visit to seek him you would inquire in vain for the Loko foger surveyor the besom of reform hath swept him out of office and worthy as successor where's his dignity and pockets is emoluments this old town of Salem my native place though I have dwelt much away from it both in boyhood and mature years possesses or did possess a hold on my affection the force of which I have never realized during my seasons of actual residence here indeed so far as its physical aspect is concerned with its flat unvaried surface covered chiefly with wooden houses few or none of which pretend to architectural beauty it's a regularity which is neither picturesque nor quaint but only tame its long and lazy Street lounging whereas Emily through the whole extent of the peninsula with gallows Hill and New Guinea at one end and a view of the arms house at the other such being the features of my native town it would be quite as reasonable to form a sentimental attachment to a disarranged checkerboard and yet though invariably happiest elsewhere there is within me a feeling for Old Salem which in lack of a better phrase I must be content to call affection the sentiment is probably assignable to the deep and aged roots which my family has stuck into the soil it is now nearly two centuries and a quarter since the original britain the earliest emigrant of my name may disappearance in the wild and forests bordered settlement which has since become a city and here his descendants have been born and died and have mingled their earthly substance with the soil until no small portion of it must necessarily be akin to the mortal frame wherewith for a little while I walk the streets in part therefore the attachment of which I speak is the mere sensuous sympathy of dust for dust few of my countrymen can know what it is nor as frequent transplantation is perhaps better for the stock neat they consider it desirable to know but the sentiment has likewise its moral quality the figure of that first ancestor invested by family tradition with a dim and dusky grandeur was present to my boyish imagination as far back as I can remember it still haunts me and induces a sort of home feeling with the past which I scarcely claim in reference to the present phase of the town I seem to have a stronger claim to a residence here on account of this grave bearded sable cloaked and steeple crowned progenitor who came so early with his Bible and his sword and Trott the unwarned street with such a stately port and made so large a figure as a man of war and peace stronger claim than for myself whose name is seldom heard and my face hardly known he was a soldier legislator judge he was ruler in the church he had all the puritanic traits both good and evil he was likewise a bitter persecutor as witnessed the Quakers who have remembered him in their histories and relate an incident of his hard severity towards a woman of their sect which will last longer it is to be feared than any record of his better deeds although these were many his son who inherited the persecuting spirit and made himself so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches that their blood may fairly be said to have left a stain upon him so deep a stain indeed that his dry old bones in the charter Street burial ground must still retain it if they have not crumbled that'll eat dust I know not whether these ancestors of mine bethought themselves to repent and ask pardon of heaven for their cruelty or whether they are now groaning under the heavy consequences of them in another state of being at all events I the present writer as their representative hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes and pray that any curse incurred by them as I have heard and as the dreary and unprosperous condition of the race for many a long year back would argue to exist may be now and henceforth removed doubtless however either of these Stern and black-browed Puritans would have thought it quite a sufficient retribution for his sins that after so long a lapse of years the old trunk of the family tree with so much venerable master pond it should have borne as its topmost bough an idler like myself no aim that I have ever cherished with very good knives laudable no success of mine if my life beyond its domestic scope had ever been brightened by success would they deem otherwise than worthless if not positively disgraceful what is he murmurs one gray shadow of my forefathers to the other a writer of storybooks what kind of business in life what mode of glorifying God or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation may that be why the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler such of the compliments bandied between my great-grand sires and myself across the Gulf of time and yet let them scorn me as they will strong traits of their nature have intertwined themselves with mine planted deep in the town's earliest infancy and childhood by these two earnest and energetic men the races ever since subsisted here always – in respectability never so far as I have known disgraced by a single unworthy member but seldom or never on the other hand after the first two generations performing any memorable deed or so much as putting forward a claim to public notice gradually they have sunk almost out of sight as old houses here and there about the streets get covered halfway to the eaves by the accumulation of new soil from father to son for above a hundred years they followed to the sea a gray headed ship master in each generation retiring from the quarterdeck to the homestead while a boy of fourteen took the hereditary place before the mast confronting the salt spray and the gale which had blasted against his sire and grandsire the boy also in due time passed from the fo'c'sle to the cabin spent a tempestuous manhood and returned from his world wanderings to grow old and die and mingle his dust with it'll earth this long connection of a family with one spot as its place of birth and burial creates a kindred between the human being and to the locality quite independent of any charm in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround him it is not love but instinct the new inhabitant who came himself from a foreign land whose father or grandfather came has little claim to be called the Sailor might he has no conception of the oyster like tenacity with which an old settler over whom his third century as creeping clings to the spot where his successive generations have been embedded it is no matter that the place is joyless for him but he is weary of the old wooden houses the mud and dust the dead level of sight and sentiment the chill east wind and chillest of social atmospheres all these and whatever faults besides he may see or imagine are nothing to the purpose the spell survives and just as powerfully as if the natal spots were an earthly paradise so has it been in my case I felt it almost as a best need to make Salem my home so that the mold of features and cast of character which had all along been familiar here ever as one representative of the race lay down in the grave another assuming as it were his sentry March along the Main Street my distill in my little day be seen and recognized in the old town nevertheless this very sentiment is an evidence that the connection which has become an unhealthy one should at least be severed human nature will not flourish any more than a potato if it would be planted and replanted for too long a series of generations in the same worn-out soil my children have had other birthplaces and so far as their fortunes maybe within my control she'll strike their roots into unaccustomed earth on emerging from the Old Manse it was chiefly this strange indolent um joyous attachment for my native town that brought me to fill a place in Uncle Sam's brick edifice when I might as well or better have gone somewhere else my doom was on me it was not the first time nor the second that I had gone away as it seemed permanently but yet returned like the bad hate knee Oh as if Salem were for me the inevitable center of the universe so one fine morning I ascended the flight of granite steps with the president's Commission in my pocket and was introduced to the core of gentlemen who were to aid me and my weighty responsibilities as chief executive officer of the Custom House end of section 1 section 2 of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne this LibriVox recording is in the public domain the custom-house continued I doubt greatly or rather I do not doubt at all with any public functionary of the United States either in the civil or military line has ever had such a patriarchal body of veterans under his orders as myself the whereabouts of the oldest inhabitant was at once settled when I looked at them for upwards of 20 years before this epoch the independent position of the collector had kept the Salem Custom House out of the whirlpool of political vicissitude which makes the tenure of office generally so fragile a soldier New England's most distinguished soldier he stood firmly on the pedestal of his gallant services and himself secure in the wise liberality of the successive administrations through which he had held office he had been the safety of his subordinates in many an hour of danger and heart quake general Miller was radically conservative a man over whose kindly nature habit had no slight influence attaching himself strongly to familiar faces and with difficulty moved to change even when change might have brought unquestionable improvement thus on taking charge of my department I found few but aged men they were but ancient sea captains for the most part who after being tossed on every sea and standing up sturdily against life's tempestuous blast had finally drifted into this quiet nook where with little to disturb them except the periodical terrors of a presidential election they won and all acquired a new lease of existence though by no means less liable than their fellow men to age and infirmity they had evidently some talisman or other that kept death at bay two or three of their number as I was assured being gouty and dramatic or perhaps bedridden never dreamed of making their appearance at the Custom House during a large part of the year but after a torpid winter would creep out into the warm sunshine of May or June go lazily about what they termed duty and at their own leisure and convenience but take themselves to bed again I must plead guilty to the charge of abbreviating the official breath of more than one of these venerable servants of the Republic they were allowed on my representation to rest from their arduous labors and soon afterwards as if their sole principle of life had been zeal for their country's service as I verily believe it was withdrew to a better world it is a pious consolation to me that through my interference a sufficient space was allowed them for repentance of the evil and corrupt practices into which as a matter of course every custom house officer must be supposed to fall neither the front nor the back entrance of the Custom House opens on the road to paradise the greater part of my officers were wakes it was well for their venerable Brotherhood that the new surveyor was not a politician and though a faithful Democrat in principle neither received nor held his office with any reference to political services had it been otherwise had an active politician been put into this influential post to assume the easy task of making head against a Whig collector whose infirmities withheld him from the personal administration of his office hardly a man of the old corps would have drawn the breath of official life within a month of the exterminating angel had come up the Custom House steps according to the received code in such matters it would have been nothing short of duty in a politician to bring every one of those white heads under the acts of the guillotine it was plain enough to discern that the old fellows dreaded some such discourtesy at my hands it pained and at the same time amused me to behold the terrors that attended my Advent to see a furrowed cheek whether beaten by half a century of storm turn ashy pale at the glance of so harmless an individual as myself to detect as one or another addressed me the tremor of a voice which in long past days had been want to bellow through a speaking trumpet hoarsely enough to frighten Boreas himself to silence they knew these excellent old persons but by all established rule and as regarded some of them weighed by their own lack of efficiency for business they ought to have given place to younger men more orthodox in politics and altogether fitter than themselves to serve our common uncle I knew it too but could never quite find in my heart to act upon the knowledge much and deservedly to my own discredit therefore and considerably to the detriment of my official conscience they continued during my incumbency to creep about the wharves and loiter up and down the Custom House steps they spent a good deal of I'm also asleep in their accustomed corners with their chairs tilted back against the walls awaking however once or twice in the forenoon de Bourgh one another with the several thousand threat ition of old sea stories and moldy jokes that had grown to be passwords and countersigns among them the discovery was soon made I imagined that the new surveyor had no great harm in him so with light some hearts and for happy consciousness of being usefully employed in their own behalf at least if not for our beloved country these good old gentlemen went through the various formalities of office sagaciously and their spectacles did they peep into the holds of vessels mighty was their fuss about little matters and marvellous sometimes the obtuseness that allowed greater ones to slip between their fingers whenever such a missed chance occurred when a wagon load of valuable merchandise had been smuggled ashore at noonday perhaps and directly beneath their unsuspicious noses nothing could exceed the vigilance and alacrity with which they proceeded to lock and double lock and secure with tape and sealing wax all the avenues of the delinquent vessel instead of a reprimand for their previous negligence the case seemed rather to require a yellow Geum on their praiseworthy caution after the mischief had occurred a grateful recognition of the promptitude of their zeal the moments that there was no longer any remedy unless people are more than commonly disagreeable it is my foolish habits to contract a kindness for them the better part of my companions character if it have a better part is that which usually comes up most in my regard and forms the type whereby I recognized the man as most of these old custom-house officers had good traits and as my position in reference to them being paternal and protective was favorable to the growth of friendly sentiments I soon grew to like them all it was pleasant in the summer for Noons when the fervent heat but almost liquefied the rest of the human family merely communicated a genial warmth to their half torpid systems it was pleasant to hear them chatting in the back entry a row of them all tipped against the wall as usual while the frozen witticisms of past generations were thought out and came bubbling with laughter from their lips externally the jollity of aged men has much in common with the mirth of children the intellect any more than a deep sense of humor has little to do with the matter it is with both a gleam that plays upon the surface and imparts a sunny and sherry aspect alike to the green branch and gray moldering drunk in one case however it is real sunshine in the other it more resembles the phosphorescent glow of decaying wood it would be sad injustice the reader must understand to represent all my excellent old friends as in their dotage in the first place my coadjutors were not invariably old there were men among them in their strength and prime of marketability and energy and altogether superior to the sluggish and dependent mode of life on which their evil stars had cast them then moreover the white locks of age was sometimes found to be the fatch of an intellectual tenement in good repair but as respects the majority of my Corps of veterans there will be no wrong done if I characterize them generally as a set of wearisome old souls who had gathered nothing worth preservation from their varied experience of life they seemed to her flung away all the gold and grain of practical wisdom which they had enjoyed so many opportunities of harvesting and most carefully to have stored their memory with the husks they spoke with far more interest and unction of their morning's breakfast or yesterday's today's or tomorrow's dinner then of the shipwreck of forty or fifty years ago and all the world's wonders which they had witnessed with their youthful eyes the father of the Custom House the patriarch not only of this little squad of officials but I am bold to say of the respectable body of Tide waiters all over the United States was a certain permanent inspector he might truly be termed a legitimate son of the revenue system died in the wall or rather born in the purple since his sire a revolutionary colonel and formerly collector of the port had created an office for him and appointed him to fill it at a period of the early ages which few living men can now remember this inspector when I first knew him was a man of four score years or thereabouts and certainly one of the most wonderful specimens of wintergreen that you would be likely to discover in a lifetime search with his florid cheek his compact figure smartly arrayed in a bright buttoned blue coat his brisk and vigorous step and his hale and hearty aspect altogether he seemed not young indeed but a kind of new contrivance of mother nature in the shape of man whom age and infirmity had no business to touch his voice and laugh which perpetually reoccurred through the custom-house have nothing of the tremulous quaver and cackle of an old man's utterance they came strutting out of his lungs like the crow of a or the blast of a Clarion looking at him merely as an animal and there was very little else to look at he was a most satisfactory object from the thorough healthfulness and wholesomeness of his system and his capacity at that extreme age to enjoy all or nearly all the delights which he had ever aimed at or conceived of the careless security of his life in the Custom House on a regular income and with but slight and infrequent apprehensions of removal had no doubt contributed to make time pass lightly over him the original and more potent causes however lay in the rare perfection of his animal nature the moderate proportion of intellect and the very trifling admixture of moral and spiritual ingredients these latter koala is indeed being in barely enough measure to keep the old gentleman from walking on all fours he possessed no power of thought no depth of feeling no troublesome sensibilities nothing in short but a few commonplace instincts which aided by the cheerful temper which grew inevitably out of his physical well-being did Duty very respectably and general acceptance in lieu of a heart he had been the husband of three wives all long since dead the father of twenty children most of whom at every age of childhood or maturity had likewise returned to dust here one would suppose might have been sorrow enough to imbue the sunniest disposition through and through with a sable tinge not so with our old inspector one brief size suffice to carry off the entire burden of these dismal reminiscences the next moment he was as ready for sport as any unbreached infant far ready earthen the collectors junior Clark who at nineteen years was much the elder and graver man of the two I used to watch and study this patriarchal personage with I think livelier curiosity than any other form of humanity there presented to my notice he was in truth a rare phenomenon so perfect in one point of view so shallow so delusive so impalpable such an absolute nonentity in every other my conclusion was that he had no soul no heart no mind nothing as I have already said but instincts and yet withal so cunningly had the few materials of his character being put together that there was no painful perception of deficiency but on my part an entire contentment with what I found in him it might be difficult and it was so to conceive how he should exist hereafter so earthly and sensuous did he seem but surely his existence here admitting that it was to terminate with his last breath had been not unkindly given with no high moral responsibilities than the beasts of the field but with a larger scope of enjoyment than theirs and with all their blessed immunity from the dreariness and duskiness of age one point in which he had vastly the advantage over his four-footed brethren was his ability to recollect the good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat his gorman dissin was a highly agreeable trait and to hear him talk of roast meat was as appetizing as a pickle or an oyster as he possessed no higher attribute and neither sacrificed nor vitiated it any spiritual endowment by devoting all his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit of his more it always pleased and satisfied me to hear him expatiate on fish poultry and butchers meat and the most eligible methods of preparing them for the table his reminiscences of good cheer however ancient the date of the actual banquet seemed to bring the savour of pig or turkey under one's very nostrils there were flavors on his palate that had lingered there not less than sixty or seventy years and were still apparently as fresh as that of the mutton chop which he had just devoured for his breakfast I have heard him smack his lips over dinners every guest at which except himself had long been food for worms it was marvelous to observe how the ghosts of bygone meals were continually rising up before him not an anger or retribution but as if grateful for his former appreciation and seeking to repudiate an endless series of enjoyment at once shadowy and sensual a tenderloin of beef a hind quarter a feel a spare rib of pork a particular chicken or a remarkably praiseworthy turkey which had perhaps adorned his board in the days of the elder Adams would be remembered while all the subsequent experience of our race and all the events that brightened or darkened his individual career had gone over him with his little permanent effect as the passing breeze the chief tragic event of the old man's life so far as I could judge was his mishap with a certain goose which lived and died some twenty or forty years ago a goose of most promising figure but which at the table proved so inveterately tough that the carving knife would make no impression on its carcass and it could only be divided with an axe and handsaw but it is time to quit this sketch on which however I should be glad to dwell at considerably more length because of all men who might have ever known this individual was fittest to be a custom house officer most persons owing to causes which I may not have space to hint at suffer moral detriment from this peculiar mode of life the old inspector was incapable of it and were he to continue in office to the end of time would be just as good as he was then and sit down to dinner with just as good an appetite there is one likeness without which my gallery of custom house portraits would be strangely incomplete but which my comparatively few opportunities for observation enable me to sketch only in the merest outline it is that of the collector our gallant old general who after his brilliant military service subsequently to which he had ruled over a wild western territory had come hither twenty years before to spend the decline of his varied and honorable life the brave soldier had already numbered nearly or quite his threescore years and ten and was pursuing the remainder of his earthly March burdened with infirmities which even the martial music of his own spirit stirring recollections could do little towards lightning the step was palsy now that had been foremost in the charge it was only with the assistance of a servant and by leaning his hand heavily on the iron allas trade that he could slowly and painfully ascend for the custom-house steps and were the toilsome progress across the floor attained his customary chair by the fireplace there he used to sit gazing with a somewhat dim serenity of aspect at the figures that came and went amid the rustle of papers the administering of oaths the discussion of business and the casual talk of the office all which sounds and circumstances seemed but indistinctly to impress his senses and hardly to make their way into his inner sphere of contemplation his countenance in this repose was mild and kindly if his notice was sought an expression of courtesy and interest gleamed out upon his features proving that there was light within him and that it was only the outward medium as the intellectual lamp that obstructed the Rays in their passage the closer you penetrated to the substance of his mind the sounder it appeared when no longer called upon to speak or listen either of which operations cost him an evident effort his face would briefly subside into its former knot unshare for quietude it was not painful to behold this look for though dim it had not the imbecility of decaying age the framework of his nature originally strong and massive was not yet crumpled into ruin to observe and define his character however and the such disadvantages was as difficult to task as the trace out and build up anew in imagination an old fortress like Ticonderoga from a view of its gray and broken ruins here and there the chance the walls may remain almost complete but elsewhere maybe only a shapeless mound cumbrous with its very strength and overgrown through long years of peace and neglect with grass and alien weeds nevertheless looking at the old warrior with affection for slight as was the communication between us my feeling towards him like that of all bipeds and pets who knew him might not improperly be termed so I could discern the main points of his portrait it was marked with the noble and heroic qualities which showed it to be not a mere accident but of good right that he had won a distinguished name his spirit could never I conceived have been characterized by an uneasy activity it must at any period of his life have required an impulse to set him in motion but once stirred up with obstacles to overcome and an adequate object to be attained it was not in the man to give out or fail the heat that had formerly pervaded his nature and which was not yet extinct was never of the kind that flashes and flickers in a blaze but rather a deep red glow as of iron in a furnace wait solidity firmness this was the expression of his repose even in such decay as had crept untimely over him at the period of which I speak but I could imagine even then that under some excitement which should go deeply into his consciousness roused by a trumpets peal loud enough to awaken all of his energies that were not dead but only slobbering he was yet capable of flinging off his infirmities like a sick man's gown dropping the staff of age to seize a battle sword and starting up once more a warrior and in so intense a moment his demeanour would have still been calm such an exhibition however was but to be pictured in fancy not to be anticipated nor desired what I saw in him as evidently as the indestructible ramparts of old Ticonderoga already cited as the most appropriate simile was the features of stubborn and ponderous endurance which might well have amounted to obstinacy in his earlier days of integrity that like most of his other endowments lay in a somewhat heavy mass and was just as on malleable or unmanned Chabal is a ton of iron ore and of benevolence which fiercely as he led to the bayonets on that chip while or for teary I take to be of quite as genuine a stamp as what actuates any or all of the polemical philanthropists of the age he had slain men with his own hand brought I know certainly they had fallen like blades of grass at the sweeper the scythe before the charge to which his spirit imparted its triumphant energy but be that as it might there was never in his heart so much cruelty as would have brushed the down of a butterfly's wing I have not known the man to whose innate Kind leanness I would more confidently make an appeal many characteristics and those to which contribute not the least forcibly to impart resemblance in a sketch must have vanished or been obscured before I met the general all merely graceful attributes are usually the most evanescent nor does nature adorn the human ruin with blossoms of new beauty that have their roots and proper nutriment only in the chinks and crevices of decay as she sews war flowers over the ruined Fortress of Ticonderoga still even in respect of grace and beauty there were points well worth noting array of humor now and then would make its way through the veil of dim obstruction and glimmer pleasantly upon our faces a trait of native elegance seldom seen in the masculine character after childhood or early youth was shown in the generals fondness for the sight and fragrance flowers an old soldier might be supposed prize only the bloody laurel on his brow but here was one who seemed to have a young girl's appreciation of the floral tribe there beside the fireplace the brave old general used to sit while the surveyor they seldom when it could be avoided taking upon himself the difficult task of engaging him in conversation was fond of standing at a distance and watching his quiet and almost slumber countenance he seemed away from us although we saw him but a few yards off remote though he passed close beside his chair unattainable though he might have stretched forth our hands and touched his own it might be that he lived a more real life within his thoughts than amid the unappropriate environment of the collector's office the evolutions of the parade the tumult of the battle the flourish of old heroic music heard thirty years before such scenes and sounds perhaps were all alive before his intellectual sense meanwhile the merchants and ship masters the spruce clerks and uncouth sailors entered and departed the bustle of this commercial and Custom House life kept up its little murmur round about him and neither with the men nor their affairs did the general appear to sustain the most distant relation he was as much out of place as an old sword now rusty but which had flashed once in the battles front and showed still a bright gleam along its blade would have been among the ink stands paper folders and mahogany rulers on the deputy collector's desk there was one thing that march aided me in renewing and recreating the stalwart soldier of the Niagara Frontier the man of true and simple energy it was the recollection of those memorable words of his I'll try sir spoken on the very verge of a desperate and heroic Enterprise and breathing the soul and spirit of New England hardihood comprehending all perils and encountering all if in our country valo were rewarded by heraldic honor this phrase which it seems so easy to speak but which only he with such a task of danger and glory before him has ever spoken would be the best and fittest of all mutters for the generals shield of arms it contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual health to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself who care little face pursuits and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate the accidents of my life have often afforded me this advantage but never with more fullness and variety than during my continuance in office there was one man especially the observation of whose character gave me a new idea of talent his gifts were emphatically those of a man of business prompt acute clear minded with an eye that saw through all perplexities and a Faculty of arrangement that made them vanish as if by the waving of an enchanters wand bred up from boyhood in the custom house it was his proper field of activity and the many intricacies of business so harassing to the interloper presented themselves before him with the regularity of a perfectly comprehended system in my contemplation he stood as the ideal of his class he was indeed the custom-house in himself or at all events the mainspring that kept its variously revolving wheels in motion for in an institution like this where its officers are appointed to subserve their own profit and convenience and seldom with a leading reference to their fitness for the duty to be performed they must perforce seek elsewhere the dexterity which is not in them thus by an inevitable necessity as a magnet attracts steel filings so did our man of business draw to himself the difficulties which everybody met with with an easy condescension and kind forbearance towards our stupidity which to his order of mind must have seemed little short of crime would he forthwith by the merest touch of his finger make the income principle as clear as daylight the merchants valued him not less than we his esoteric friends his integrity was perfect it was a law of nature with him rather than a choice or a principle nor can it be otherwise from the main condition of an intellect so remarkably and accurate as his to be honest and regular in the administration of affairs a stain on his conscience as to anything that came within the range of his vacation would trouble such a man very much in the same way though to a far greater degree than an error in the balance of an account or an inkblot on the fair page of a book of record here in a word and it is a rare instance in my life I had met with a person thoroughly adapted to the situation which he held end of section 2 section three of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne this LibriVox recording is in the public domain the custom-house continued such were some of the people with whom I now found myself connected I took it in good part at the hands of Providence that I was thrown into a position so little Akins my past habits and set myself seriously to gather from it whatever profit was to be had after my fellowship of toil and impracticable schemes with the dreamy brethren of Brook farm after living for three years within the subtle influence of an intellect like Emerson's after those wild free days on the a Sabbath indulging fantastic speculations beside our fire of fallen boughs with Ellery Channing after talking with Thoreau about pine trees and Indian relics in his Hermitage at Walden after growing fastidious by sympathy with the classic refinement of Hilliard's culture after becoming imbued with poetic sentiment at Longfellow his hearthstone it was time at length that I should exercise other faculties of my nature and nourish myself with food for which I had hitherto had little appetite even the old inspector was desirable as a change of diet to a man who had known Olcott I looked upon it as an evidence in some measure of a system naturally well-balanced and lacking no essential part of a thorough organization but with such associates to remember I could mingle at once with men of altogether different qualities and never murmur at the change literature its exertions and objects were now of a little moment in my regard I cared not at this period for books they were apart from me Nietzsche except it were human nature the nature that is developed in earth and sky was in one sense hidden from me and all the imaginative delights wherewith it had been spiritual eyes passed away out of my mind a gift a faculty if it had not been departed was suspended and inanimate within me there would have been something sad unutterably dreary in all this had I not been conscious that it lay at my own option to recall whatever was valuable in the past it might be true indeed that this was a life which could not with impunity be lived too long else it might make me permanently other than I had been without transforming me into any shape which it would be worth my while to take but I never considered it as other than a transitory life there was always a prophetic instinct a low whisper in my ear but within no long period and whenever a new change of custom should be essential to my good change would come meanwhile there I was a surveyor of the revenue and so far as I have been able to understand as good a surveyor as need be a man of thought fancy and Sensibility had he ten times the surveyors proportion of those qualities may at any time be a man of affairs if he will only choose to give himself the trouble my fellow officers and the merchants and sea captains with whom my official duties brought me into any manner of connection feared me and no other light and probably knew me and no other character none of them I presume had ever read a page of my end i t'ink would have cared a fig the more for me if they have read them all nor would it have mended to the matter in the least had those same unprofitable pages been written with a pen like those of burns or of Chaucer each of whom was a custom house officer in his day as well as I it is a good lesson though it may often be a hard one for a man who has dreamed of literary Fame and of making for himself a rank among the world's dignitaries by such means to step aside out of the narrow circle in which his claims are recognized and to find how utterly devoid of significance beyond that sir is all that he achieves and all he aims at I know not that I especially needed the lesson either in the way of warning or rebuke but at any rate I learned it thoroughly nor it gives me pleasure to reflect did the truth as it came home to my perception ever cost me a pang or required to be thrown off in a sigh in the way of literary talk it is true the naval officer an excellent fellow who came into the office with me and went out only a little later would often engage me in a discussion about one or other of his favorite topics Napoleon or Shakespeare the Collector's jr. Clarke to a young gentleman who it was whispered occasionally covered a sheet of Uncle Sam's letter paper with what at the distance of a few yards looked very much like poetry used now and then to speak to me of books as matters with which I might possibly be conversant this was my all of lettered intercourse and it was quite sufficient for my necessities no longer seeking or caring that my name should be blazoned abroad on title pages I smiled to think that it had now another kind of vogue the custom-house market imprinted it with a stencil and black paint on paper bags and baskets of annatto and cigar boxes and bales of all kinds of dutiable merchandise in testimony that these commodities had paid the in past and gone regularly through the office borne on such queer vehicle of Fame a knowledge of my existence so far as a name conveys it was carried where it had never been before and my hope will never go again but to the past was not dead once in a great while the thoughts that had seemed so vital and so active yet had been put to rest so quietly revived again one of the most remarkable occasions when the habit of bygone days awoke in me was that which brings it within the law of literary variety to offer the public the sketch which I am now writing in the second story of the Custom House there is a large room in which the brickwork and naked rafters have never been covered with paneling and plaster the edifice originally projected on a scale adapted to the old commercial enterprise of the port and with an idea of subsequent prosperity destined never to be realized contains far more space than its occupants know what to do with this Airy Hall therefore over the correctors apartments remains unfinished to this day and in spite of the aged cobwebs that force tune its dusky beams appears stills who awaits the labor of the carpenter and mason at one end of the room in a recess where a number of barrels piled one upon another containing bundles of official documents large quantities of similar rubbish lay lumbering the floor it was sorrowful to think how many days and weeks and months and years of toil had been wasted on these musty papers which were now only an encumbrance on earth and were hidden away in this forgotten corner never more to be glanced at by human eyes but then what reams of other manuscripts fills not with the dullness of official formalities but with the thought of inventive brains and the rich effusion of deep hearts had gone equally to oblivion and that moreover without serving a purpose in their day as these heaped up papers had and saddest of all without purchasing for their writers the comfortable livelihood which the clerks of the Custom House had gained by these worthless scratchings of the pen yet not altogether worthless perhaps as materials of local history here no doubt statistics of the former commerce of Salem might be discovered and memorials of her princely merchants old King Derby old Billy gray old Simon Forester and many another magnate in his day whose powdered head however with scarcely in the tomb before his Mountain pile of wealth began to dwindle the founders of the greater part of the families which now compose the aristocracy of Salem might here be traced from the petty and obscure beginnings of their traffic at periods generally much posterior to the revolution upward towards their children look upon this long-established rank prior to the Revolution there is a dearth of records the earlier documents and archives of the Custom House having probably been carried off to Halifax when all the king's officials accompanied to the British Army in its flight from Boston it has often been a matter of regret with me for going back perhaps to the days of the Protectorate those papers must have contained many references to forgotten or remembered men and to antique customs which would have affected me with the same pleasure as when I used to pick up Indian arrowheads in the field near the old manse but one idle and rainy day it was my fortune to make a discovery of some little interest poking and burrowing into the heaped-up rubbish in the corner unfolding one and another document and reading the names of vessels that had long ago founded at sea or rotted at the wharves and those of merchants never heard of now on change nor very readily decipherable on their mossy tombstones glancing at such matters with the saddened weary half reluctant interest which we bestow on the corpse of dead activity and exerting my fancy sluggish with little use to raise up from these dry bones an image of the old towns brighter aspect when India was a new region and only Salem knew the way thither I chanced to lay my hand on a small package carefully done up in a piece of ancient yellow parchment this envelope had the air of an official record of some period long past when Clarke's engrossed their stiff and formal Curragh graffia more substantial materials than at present there was something about it that quickened an instinctive curiosity and made me undo the faded red tape that tied up the package with the sense that treasure would here be brought to light unbending the rigid folds of the parchment cover I found it to be a commission under the hands and seal of governor surely in favor of one Jonathan Pugh a surveyor of His Majesty's Customs for the Port of Salem in the province of Massachusetts Bay I remembered to have read probably in felts annals a notice of the decease of mr. surveyor PUE about four score years ago and likewise in a newspaper of recent times an account of the digging up of his remains in the little graveyard of sant peter's church during the renewal of that edifice nothing if I rightly call to mind was left of my respected predecessor save an imperfect skeleton and some fragments of apparel and a wig of majestic frizzle which unlike the head that it once adorned was in very satisfactory preservation but on examining the paper switch the parchment Commission served to envelop I found more traces of mr. Pooh's mental part and the internal operations of his head from the frizzled wig had contained of the venerable skull itself they were documents in short not official but of a private nature or at least written in his private capacity and apparently with his own hand I could account for their being included in the heap of Custom House lumber only by the fact that mr. Pooh's death had happened suddenly and that these papers which he probably kept in his official desk had never come to the knowledge of his heirs or was supposed to relate to the business of the Revenue on the transfer of the archives to Halifax this package proving to be of no public concern was left behind and had remained ever since unopened the ancient surveyor being little molested I suppose at that early day with business pertaining to his office seems to have devoted some of his many leisure hours to researches as a local antiquarian and other inquisitions of a similar nature these supplied material for petty activity to a mind that would otherwise have been eaten up with rust a portion of his facts by the by did me good service in the preparation of the article entitled Main Street included in the present volume the remainder may perhaps be applied to the purposes equally valuable hereafter or not impossibly may be worked up so far as they go into a regular history of Salem should my veneration for the natal soil ever impel me to so pious a task meanwhile they shall be at the command of any gentleman inclined and competent to take the unprofitable labour off my hands as a final disposition I contemplate depositing them with the Essex Historical Society but the object that most drew my attention to the mysterious package was a certain affair of fine red cloth much worn and faded there were traces about it of gold embroidery which however was greatly afraid and defaced so that none or very little of the glitter was left it had been wrought as was easy to perceive with wonderful skill of needlework and the stitch as I am assured by ladies conversant with such mysteries gives evidence of a now forgotten art not to be discovered even by the process of picking out the threads this rag of scarlet cloth for time wear and a sacrilegious moth had reduced its to little other than a rag on careful examination assumed the shape of a letter it was the capital letter a by an accurate measurement each limb proved to be precisely three inches and a quarter in length it had been intended there could be no doubt as an ornamental article of dress but how it was to be worn or what rank honour and dignity in by pastimes were signified by it was a riddle which so evanescent of the fashions of the world in these particular I saw little hope of solving and yet it strangely interested me my eyes fastened themselves upon the old Scarlet Letter and would not be turned aside certainly there was some deep meaning in it most worthy of interpretation and which as it were streamed forth from the mystic symbol subtly communicating itself to my sensibilities but evading the analysis of my mind when thus perplexed and cogitating among other hypotheses whether the letter might not have been one of those decorations which the white men used to contrive in order to take the eyes of Indians I happened to place it on my breast it seemed to me the reader may smile but must not doubt my word it seemed to me then that I experienced a sensation not altogether physical yet almost so as of burning heat and as if the letter were not of red cloth but red-hot iron I shuddered and involuntarily let it fall upon the floor in the absorbing contemplation of the Scarlet Letter I had hitherto neglected to examine a small roll of dingy paper around which it had been twisted this I now opened and had the satisfaction to find recorded by the old surveyors pen a reasonably complete explanation of the whole affair there were several foolscap sheets containing many particulars respecting the life and conversation of one Hester Prynne who appeared to have been a rather noteworthy personage in the view of our ancestors she had flourished during the period between the early days of Massachusetts and the close of the 17th century aged persons alive in the time of mr. surveyor PUE and from whose oral testimony he had made up his narrative remembered her in their youth it's very old but not decrepit woman of a stately and solemn aspect it had been her habit from an almost immemorial date to go about the country as a kind of voluntary nurse and doing what miscellaneous good she might taking upon herself likewise to give advice in all matters especially those of the heart by which means as a person of such propensity is inevitably masked she gained from many people the reverence due to an angel but I should imagine was looked upon by others as an intruder and a nuisance prying further into the manuscript I found the record of other doings and sufferings of this singular woman for most of which the reader is referred to the story entitled The Scarlet Letter and it should be borne carefully in mind that the main facts of that story are authorized and authenticated by the document of mr. surveyor PUE the original papers together with the Scarlet Letter itself a most curious relic are still in my possession and shall be freely exhibited to whomsoever induced by the great interest of the narrative may desire a sight of them I must not be understood as affirming that in the dressing up of the tale and imagining the motives and modes of passion that influenced the characters who figure in it I have invariably confined myself within the limits of the old surveyors half a dozen the sheets of foolscap on the contrary I have allowed myself as for such points nearly or altogether as much license as if the facts had been entirely of my own invention what I contend for is the authenticity of the outline this incident recalled my mind in some degree to its old track there seemed to be here the groundwork of a tale it impressed me as if the ancient surveyor in his garb of a hundred years gone by and wearing his immortal wig which was buried with him but did not perish in the grave had met me in the deserted chamber of the Custom House in his port was the dignity of one who had borne His Majesty's Commission and who was therefore illuminated by a ray of the splendor that shone so dazzlingly about the throne how unlike alas the hangdog look of a republican official who as the servant of the people feels himself less than the least and below the lowest of his masters with his own ghostly hand the obscurely scene but majestic figure had imparted to me the scarlet symbol and the little role of explanatory manuscript with his own ghostly voice he had exhorted me on the sacred consideration of my filial duty and reverence towards him who might reasonably regard himself as my official ancestor to bring his moldy and Moffat and Luke aberrations before the public do this said the ghost of mr. surveyor PUE emphatically nodding the head that looked so imposing within its memorable wig do this and the Prophet shall be all your own you will shortly need it for it is not in your days as it was in mine when a man's office was a life lease and oftentimes an heirloom but I charge you in this matter of old mistress Prynne give to your predecessors memory the credit which will be rightfully due and I said to the ghost of mr. surveyor PUE I will on Hester Prynne's story therefore I bestowed much thought it was the subject of my meditations for many an hour while pacing to and fro across my room or traversing with a hundredfold repetition the long extent from the front door of the Custom House to the side entrance and back again great with a weariness and annoyance of the old inspector and the wires and gauges whose slumbers were disturbed by the unmercifully lengthened tramp of my passing and returning footsteps remembering their own former habits they used to say that the surveyor was walking the quarterdeck they probably fancied that my sole object and indeed the sole object for which a sane man could ever put himself into voluntary motion was to get an appetite for dinner and to say the truth an appetite sharpened by the east wind that generally blew along the passage was the only valuable result of so much indefatigable sighs so little adapted is the atmosphere of a custom house to the delicate harvest of fancy and Sensibility that had I remained there through ten presidencies yet to come I doubt whether the tale of The Scarlet Letter would ever have been brought before the public eye my imagination was a tarnished mirror it would not reflect war only with miserable dimness the figures with which I did my best to people it the characters of the narrative would not be warmed and rendered malleable by any heat that I could Kindle at my intellectual forge they would take neither the glow of passion nor the tenderness of sentiment but retained all the rigidity of dead corpses and stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin of contemptuous defiance what have you to do with us that expression seemed to say the little power you might have once possessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone you have bartered it for a pittance of the public gold go then and earn your wages in short the almost torpid creatures of my own fancy twitted me with imbecility and not without fair occasion it was not merely during the three hours and a half which Uncle Sam claimed as his share of my daily life for this wretched numbness held possession of me it went with me on my sea shore walks and rambles into the country whenever which was seldom and reluctantly I be stirred myself to seek that invigorating charm of nature which used to give me such freshness and activity of thought the moment that I stepped across the threshold of the Old Manse the same torpor as regarded the capacity for intellectual effort accompanied me home and weighed upon me in the chamber which I most absurdly termed my study nor did it quit me when late at night I sat in the deserted parlor lighted only by the glimmering coal fire and the moon striving to picture forth imaginary scenes which the next day might flow out on the brightening in many huge description if the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hour it might well be deemed a hopeless case moonlight in a familiar room falling so white upon the carpet and showing all its figures so distinctly making every object so minutely visible yet so unlike a morning or noon side visibility is a medium the most suitable for a romance writer to get acquainted with his illusive guests there is the little domestic scenery of the well-known apartment the chairs with each its separate individuality the center table sustaining a work basket a volume or two and an extinguished lamp the sofa the bookcase the picture on the wall all these details so completely seen so spiritualize by the unusual light though they seem to lose their actual substance and become things of intellect nothing is too small or too trifling to undergo this change and acquire dignity thereby a child's shoe the doll seated in her little wicker carriage the hobbyhorse whatever in a word has been used or played with during the day is now invested with a quality of strangeness and remoteness they're still almost as vividly present as by daylight thus therefore the floor of our familiar room has become a neutral territory somewhere between the real world and fairyland were the actual and the imaginary may meet and each imbue itself with the nature of the other ghosts might enter here without a frightened us it would be too much in keeping with a scene to excite surprise worried to look about us and discover a form beloved but gone hence now sitting quietly in a streak of this magic moonshine with an aspect that would make us doubt whether it had returned from afar or had never once stirred from our fireside the somewhat dim or fire has an essential influence in producing the effect which I would describe it throws its unobtrusive tinge throughout the room with a faint ruddiness upon the walls and ceiling and a reflected gleam upon the polish of the furniture this warmer light mingles itself with the cold spirituality of the moonbeams and communicates as it were a heart and sensibilities of human tenderness to the forms which fancy summons up it converts them from snow images into men and women glancing at the looking glass we behold deep within its haunted verge the smouldering glow of the half-extinguished anthracite the white moonbeams on the floor and the repetition of all the gleam and shadow of the picture with one removed further from the actual and nearer to the imaginative then at such an hour and with this scene before him if a man sitting all alone cannot dream strange things and make them look like truth he need never try to write romances but for myself during the whole of my custom-house experience moonlight and sunshine and the glow of firelight were justtlike in my regard and neither of them was of one whit more avail than the twinkle of a tallow candle an entire class of susceptibilities and a gift connected with them of no great richness or value but the best I had was gone from me it is my belief however that had I attempted a different order of composition my faculties would not have been found so pointless and inefficacious I might for instance have contented myself with writing out the narratives of a veteran ship master one of the inspectors whom I should be most ungrateful not to mention since scarcely a day passed that he did not stir me to laughter and admiration by his marvelous gifts a storyteller could I have preserved the picturesque force of his style under the humorous coloring which nature taught him how to throw over his descriptions the result I honestly believe would have been something new in literature or I might readily have found a more serious task it was a folly with the materiality of this daily life pressing so intrusively upon me to attempt to fling myself back into another age or to insist on creating the semblance of a world out of Airy matter when at every moment the impalpable beauty of my soap bubble was broken by the rude contact of some actual circumstance the wiser effort would have been to diffuse thought and imagination through the opaque substance of today and thus to make it a bright transparency to spiritualize the burden that began to weigh so heavily to seek resolutely the true and indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and where is some incidents and ordinary characters with which I was now converse n't the fault was mine the page of life that was spread out before me seemed dull and commonplace only because I had not fathomed it's deeper import a better book than I shall ever write was their leaf after leaf presenting itself to me just as it was written out by the reality of the flitting hour and vanishing as fast as written only because my brain wanted to the inside and my hand the cunning to transcribe it at some future day it may be I shall remember a few scattered fragments and broken paragraphs and write them down and finds the letters turned to gold upon the page these perceptions had come too late at the instant I was only conscious that what would have been a pleasure once was now a hopeless toil there was no occasion to make much moan about this state of affairs I had ceased to be a writer at tolerably poor tales and essays and had become a tolerably good surveyor of the customs that was all but nevertheless it is anything but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that one's intellect is dwindling away or exhale without your consciousness like ether out her file so that at every glance you find a smaller and less volatile residual of the fact there could be no doubt and examining myself and others I was led to conclusions in reference to the effect of public office on the character not very favorable to the mode of life in question in some other form perhaps I may hereafter develop these effects the suffice it here to say that a custom house officer of long continuance can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable personage for many reasons one of them the tenure by which he holds his situation and another the very nature of his business which though I trust an honest one is of such a sort that he does not share in the united effort of mankind an effect which I believe to be observable more or less in every individual who has occupied the position is but while he leans on the mighty arm of the Republic his own proper strength departs from him he loses in an extent proportioned to the weakness or force of his original nature the capability of self-support if he possesses an unusual share of native energy or if the innovating magic of place do not operate too long upon him his forfeited powers may be redeemable the ejected officer fortunate in the unkindly shove that sends him forth batons to struggle amid a struggling world may return to himself and become all that he has ever been but this seldom happens he usually keeps his ground just long enough for his own ruin and is then thrust out with all sinews unstrung too taut her along the difficult footpath of life as he best may conscious of his own infirmity that his tempered steel and elasticity are lost he forever afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of support external to himself his pervading and continual hope a hallucination which in the face of all discouragement and making light of impossibilities wants him while he lives and I fancy like the convulsive throws of the cholera torments him for a brief space after death is that finally and in no long time by some happy coincidence of circumstances he shall be restored to office this faith more than anything else steals the pith and availability out of whatever Enterprise he may dream of undertaking why should he toil and moil and be it so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud when they're little while hence the strong arm of his uncle will raise and support him why should he work for his living here or go to dig gold in California when he is so soon to be made happy at monthly intervals with a little pile of glittering coin out of his uncle's pocket it is sadly curious to observe how slight a taste of office suffice is to infect a poor fellow with the singular disease Uncle Sam's gold meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentleman has in this respect a quality of Enchantment like that of the devil's wages whoever touches it should look well to himself or he may find the bargain to go hard against him involving if not his soul yet many of its better attributes its sturdy force its courage and constancy its truth its self-reliance and all it gives the emphasis to manly character here was a fine prospect in the distance not the the surveyor brought the lesson home to himself or admitted that he could be so utterly undone either by continuance in office or ejectment yet my reflections were not the most comfortable I began to grow melancholy and restless continually prying into my mind to discover which of its poor properties were gone and what degree of detriment had already accrued to the remainder I endeavoured to calculate how much longer I could stay in the custom house and yet to go forth the man to confess the truth it was my greatest apprehension as it would never be a measure of policy to turn out so quiet and individual as myself and it hardly being in the nature of a public officer to resign it was my chief trouble therefore that I was likely to grow gray and decrepit in the surveyor ship and become much such another animal as the old inspector might it not in the tedious lapse of official life that's lay before me finally be with me as it was with this venerable friend to make the dinner hour the nucleus of the day and to spend the rest of it as an old dog spends it asleep in the sunshine or in the shade a dreary look forward this for a man who felt it to be the best definition of happiness to live throughout the whole range of his faculties and sensibilities but all this while I was giving myself very unnecessary alarm Providence had meditated better things for me than I could possibly imagine for myself a remarkable event of the third year of my surveyor ship to adopt the tone of pp was the election of general Taylor to the presidency it is essential in order to a complete estimate of the advantages of official life to view the incumbent at the incoming of a hostile administration his position is then one of the most singularly x'm and in every contingency disagreeable that a wretched mortal can possibly occupy with seldom an alternative of good on either hand though what presents itself to him as the worst of end may very probably be the best but it is a strange experience to a man of pride and Sensibility to know that his interests are within the control of individuals who neither love nor understand him and by whom since one or the other must needs happen he would rather be injured than obliged strange to for one who has kept his calmness throughout the contest to observe the bloodthirstiness that is developed in the hour of triumph and to be conscious that he is himself among its objects there are a few uglier traits of human nature than this tendency which are now witnessed in men they're worse than their neighbors to grow cruel merely because they possessed the power of inflicting harm if the guillotine has applied to officeholders were a literal fact instead of one of the most apt of metaphors it is my sincere belief that the active members of the victorious party were sufficiently excited to have chopped off all our heads and have thanked heaven for the opportunity it appears to me who have been a calm and curious observer as well in victory as defeat the this fierce and bitter spirit of malice and revenge has never distinguished the many triumphs of my own party as it now did that of the Whigs the Democrats take the offices as a general rule because they need them and because the practice of many years has made it the law of political warfare which unless a different system be proclaimed it was weakness and cowardice to murmur at but the long habit of victory has made them generous they know how to spare when they see occasion and when they strike the axe may be sharp indeed but its edge is seldom poisoned with ill-will nor is it their custom ignominiously to kick the head which they have just struck off in short unpleasant as was my predicament at best I saw much reason to congratulate myself that I was on the losing side rather than the triumphant one if heretofore I had been none of the warmest of partisans I began now at the season of peril and adversity to be pretty acutely sensible with which party my predilections lay nor was it without something like regret and shame but according to a reasonable calculation of chances I saw my own prospect of retaining office to be better than those of my Democratic brethren but who can see an inch into Futurity beyond his nose my own head was the first that fell the moment when a man's head drops off is them or never I am inclined to think precisely the most agreeable of his life nevertheless like the greater part of our misfortunes even so serious a contingency brings its remedy and consolation with it if a sufferer will but make the best rather than the worst of the accident which has befallen him in my particular case the consulate or topics were close at hand and indeed had suggested themselves to my meditations a considerable time before it was requisite to use them in view of my previous weariness of office and vague thoughts of resignation my fortune somewhat resembled that of a person who should entertain an idea of committing suicide and although beyond his hopes meet with the good HAP to be murdered in the Custom House as before in the Old Manse I had spent three years a term long enough to rest a weary brain long enough to break off old intellectual habits and make room for new ones long enough and too long to have lived in an unnatural state during what was really of no advantage nor delight to any human being and withholding myself from toil that would at least have stilled an unquiet impulse in me then moreover as regarded his unceremonious ejectment the late surveyor was not altogether ill pleased to be recognized by the weeks as an enemy since his inactivity in political affairs his tendency to roam at will in that broad and quiet field where all mankind may meet rather than confine himself to those narrow paths were brethren of the same household must diverge from one another had sometimes made it questionable with his brother Democrats whether he was a friend now after he had won the crown of martyrdom though with no longer a head to wear it on the point might be looked upon as settled finally little heroic as he was it seemed more decorous to be overthrown in the downfall of the party with which he had been content to stand than to remain a forlorn survivor when so many worthier men were falling and at last after subsisting for four years on the mercy of a hostile administration be compelled then to define his position and new and claim the yet more humiliating mercy of a friendly one meanwhile the press had taken up my affair and kept me for a week or two careering through the public prints in my decapitated state like Irving's headless horseman ghastly and grim and longing to be buried as a political dead man ought so much for my figurative self the real human being all this time with his head safely on his shoulders had brought himself to the comfortable conclusion that everything was for the best and making an investment in ink paper and steel pens had opened his long disused writing desk and was again a literary man now it was the Luke aberrations of my ancient predecessor mr. surveyor PUE came into play rusty through long idleness some little space was requisite before my intellectual machinery could be brought to work upon the tale with an effect in any degree satisfactory even yet though my thoughts were ultimately much absorbed in the task it wears to my eye a stern and somber aspect too much Sun gladdened by genial sunshine to little relieved by the tender and familiar influences which soften almost every scene of nature and real life and undoubtedly should soften every picture of them this uncapped evading effect is perhaps due to the period of hardly accomplished revolution and still seething turmoil in which the story shaped itself it is no indication however of a lack of cheerfulness in the writers mind for he was happier while straying through the gloom of these sunless fantasies than at any time since he had quitted the Old Manse some of the briefer articles which contribute to make up the volume have likewise been written since my involuntary withdrawal from the toils and honours of public life and the remainder are gleaned from annuals and magazines of such antique date that they have gone round the circle and come back to novelty again keeping up the metaphor of the political guillotine the whole may be considered as the posthumous papers of a decapitated surveyor and the sketch which I am now bringing to a close if two autobiographical for a modest person to publish in his lifetime will readily be excused in a gentleman who writes from beyond the grave peace be with all the world my blessing on my friends my forgiveness to my enemies for I am in the realm of quiet the life of the custom-house lies like a dream behind me the old inspector who by the by I regret to say was overthrown and killed by a horse some time ago else he would certainly have lived forever he and all those are the venerable personages who sat with him at the receipt of custom are but shadows in my view white headed and wrinkled images which my fancy used to sport with and has now flung aside forever the merchants Pingree Philips Shepherd Upton Kimball Bertram hunt these and many other names which had such classic familiarity for my ear six months ago these men of traffic who seemed to occupy so important a position in the world how little time has it required to disconnect me from them all not merely an act but recollection it is with an effort that I recall the figures and appellations of these few soon likewise my old native town will loom upon me through the haze of memory amidst brooding over and around it as if it were no portion of the real earth but an overgrown village in cloud land with only imaginary inhabitants to people its wooden houses and walk its homely lanes and the unpick tereska prolixity of its Main Street henceforth it ceases to be a reality of my life I am a citizen of somewhere else my good townspeople will not much regret me for though it has been as they're an object as any in my literary efforts to be of some importance in their eyes and to win myself a pleasant memory in this abode and burial place of so many of my forefathers there has never been for me the genial atmosphere which a literary man requires in order to ripen the best harvest of his mind I shall be better amongst other faces and these familiar ones it need hardly be said will do just as well without me it may be however transporting and triumphant thought that the great grandchildren of the present race may sometimes think kindly of the scribbler of bygone days when the antiquary of days to come among the sights memorable in the town's history she'll point out the locality of the town pump end of section 3 Section 4 of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne this LibriVox recording is in the public domain chapter 1 the prison door a throng of bearded men in sad colored garments and gray steeple crowned hats intermixed with women some wearing hoods and others bareheaded was assembled in front of a wooden edifice the door of which was heavily timbered with oak and studded with iron spikes the founders of a new colony whatever utopia of human virtue and Happiness they might originally project have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to a lot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery and another portion as the site of a prison in accordance with this rule it may safely be assumed as the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison house somewhere in the vicinity of corn Hill almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial ground on Isaac Johnson's lot and round about his grave which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated Sepulchre sin the old churchyard of King's chapel certain it is that some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town the wooden jail was already marked with weather stains and other indications of age which gave her yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front the rust on the ponderous iron work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the new world like all that pertains to crime it seemed never to have known a youthful era before this ugly edifice and between it and the wheel track of the street was a grass plot much overgrown with burdock pigweed Apple Peru and such unsightly vegetation which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilized society a prison but on one side of the portal and routed almost at the threshold was a wild rose bush covered in this month of June with its delicate gem which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom in token that the deep heart of nature could pity and be kind to him this rosebush by a strange chance has been kept alive in history but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and Oaks that originally overshadowed it or whether as there is fair Authority for believing it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Anne Hutchison as she entered the prison door we shall not take upon us to determine finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers and present it to the reader it may serve let us hope to symbolize some sweet moral bluffs

1 thought on “Scarlet Letter (version 2) | Nathaniel Hawthorne | Literary Fiction | Talkingbook | English | 1/6

  1. Scarlet Letter (version 2) | Nathaniel Hawthorne | Literary Fiction | Talkingbook | English | 1/6

    1: [00:00:00] – 00a – The Custom-House—Introductory to 'The Scarlet Letter'

    2: [00:23:19] – 00b – The Custom-House—Continued

    3: [00:54:06] – 00c – The Custom-House—Concluded

    4: [01:41:52] – 01 – The Prison-Door

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