Sunday, December 03, 2006

More on Writing

I've mentioned before that I have the (cough*GEEKY*cough) habit of collecting language. I make a point to copy down the words of others that speak to me - or, rather, that strike me like lightning, which is most often the case. Every once in a while, I'll go back to read something that I've written, and will be pleased to see a passage or turn of phrase that, had I not already written it myself, I'd add to my collection. It's those few perfectly crafted passages that keep me writing.

Here, I offer you the words of the great Nathaniel Hawthorne. I have a particular love for good 'ole Nate, mostly because I feel he had a deep and profound insight into what it means to be a New Englander; a Yankee in the truest sense of the word; a native (I love Sarah Orne Jewett for the same reason, but I'll save her for another post). This passage - one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing ever - is taken from The Custom-House, which serves, in most editions, as a preface to The Scarlet Letter. I'm going to give it to you without any editorializing - we can have a conversation about it, if you like, in the comments.



Planted deep, in the town's earliest infancy and childhood, by these two earnest and energetic men, the race has ever since subsisted here; always, too, 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 half-way to the eaves by the accumulation of new soil. From father to son, for above a hundred years, they followed the sea; a grey-headed shipmaster, in each generation, retiring from the quarter-deck to the homestead, while a boy of fourteen took the hereditary place before the mast, confronting the salt spray and the gale which had blustered against his sire and grandsire. The boy, also in due time, passed from the forecastle to the cabin, spent a tempestuous manhood, and returned from his world-wanderings, to grow old, and die, and mingle his dust with the natal earth. This long connexion of a family with one spot, as its place of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the human being and 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, or whose father or grandfather came--has little claim to be called a Salemite; he has no conception of the oyster-like tenacity with which an old settler, over whom his third century is creeping, clings to the spot where his successive generations have been embedded. It is no matter that the place is joyless for him; that he is weary of the old wooden houses, the mud and dust, the dead level of site and sentiment, the chill east wind, and the 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 spot were an earthly paradise.


Post a Comment

<< Home