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Mosses From An Old Manse

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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“Whatever Nathaniel Hawthorne may hereafter write, Mosses from an Old Manse will ultimately be accountedhis masterpiece.”—Herman Melville

?Whatever Nathaniel Hawthorne may hereafter write, Mosses from an Old Manse will ultimately be accountedhis masterpiece.??Herman Melville

Book Description
Mosses from an Old Manse is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s second story collection, first published in 1846 in two volumes and featuring sketches and tales written over a span of more than twenty years, including such classics as “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Birthmark,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” Herman Melville deemed Hawthorne the American Shakespeare, and Henry James wrote that his early tales possess “the element of simple genius, the quality of imagination. That is the real charm of Hawthorne’s writing—this purity and spontaneity and naturalness of fancy.”

The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Collection of short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in two volumes in 1846. Written while Hawthorne lived at the Old Manse in Concord, Mass., the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson's ancestors, the 25 tales and sketches include some of the author's finest short works. Many of the Romantic themes found in Hawthorne's longer fiction are addressed in the stories: for example, the conflict between reason and emotion in the gothic tales RAPPACCINI'S DAUGHTER and "The Birthmark," and between Puritan religion and the supernatural in YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN. Also noteworthy are the title essay describing the parsonage and ROGER MALVIN'S BURIAL, a historical tale.

Inside Flap Copy
Mosses from an Old Manse is Nathaniel Hawthorne?s second story collection, first published in 1846 in two volumes and featuring sketches and tales written over a span of more than twenty years, including such classics as ?Young Goodman Brown,? ?The Birthmark,? and ?Rappaccini?s Daughter.? Herman Melville deemed Hawthorne the American Shakespeare, and Henry James wrote that his early tales possess ?the element of simple genius, the quality of imagination. That is the real charm of Hawthorne?s writing?this purity and spontaneity and naturalness of fancy.?

From the Back Cover
“Whatever Nathaniel Hawthorne may hereafter write, Mosses from an Old Manse will ultimately be accountedhis masterpiece.”—Herman Melville

About the Author
Mary Oliver is the author of eleven books of poetry, including American Primitive, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; New and Selected Poems, which won the National Book Award; and House of Light, which won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Old Manse

The Author makes the Reader acquainted with his Abode.

Between two tall gateposts of roughhewn stone (the gate itself having fallen from its hinges at some unknown epoch) we beheld the gray front of the old parsonage, terminating the vista of an avenue of black ash trees. It was now a twelvemonth since the funeral procession of the venerable clergyman, its last inhabitant, had turned from that gateway towards the village burying ground. The wheel track leading to the door, as well as the whole breadth of the avenue, was almost overgrown with grass, affording dainty mouthfuls to two or three vagrant cows and an old white horse who had his own living to pick up along the roadside. The glimmering shadows that lay half asleep between the door of the house and the public highway were a kind of spiritual medium, seen through which the edifice had not quite the aspect of belonging to the material world. Certainly it had little in common with those ordinary abodes which stand so eminent upon the road that every passer by can thrust his head, as it were, into the domestic circle. From these quiet windows the figures of passing travellers looked too remote and dim to disturb the sense of privacy. In its near retirement and accessible seclusion it was the very spot for the residence of a clergyman—a man not estranged from human life, yet enveloped, in the midst of it, with a veil woven of intermingled gloom and brightness. It was worthy to have been one of the time-honored parsonages of England, in which, through many generations, a succession of holy occupants pass from youth to age, and bequeath each an inheritance of sanctity to pervade the house and hover over it as with an atmosphere.

Nor, in truth, had the Old Manse ever been profaned by a lay occupant until that memorable summer afternoon when I entered it as my home. A priest had built it; a priest had succeeded to it; other priestly men from time to time had dwelt in it; and children born in its chambers had grown up to assume the priestly character. It was awful to reflect how many sermons must have been written there. The latest inhabitant alone—he by whose translation to paradise the dwelling was left vacant—had penned nearly three thousand discourses, besides the better, if not the greater, number that gushed living from his lips. How often, no doubt, had he paced to and fro along the avenue, attuning his meditations to the sighs and gentle murmurs and deep and solemn peals of the wind among the lofty tops of the trees! In that variety of natural utterances he could find something accordant with every passage of his sermon, were it of tenderness or reverential fear. The boughs over my head seemed shadowy with solemn thoughts as well as with rustling leaves. I took shame to myself for having been so long a writer of idle stories, and ventured to hope that wisdom would descend upon me with the falling leaves of the avenue, and that I should light upon an intellectual treasure in the Old Manse well worth those hoards of long-hidden gold which people seek for in mossgrown houses. Profound treatises of morality; a layman’s unprofessional, and therefore unprejudiced, views of religion; histories (such as Bancroft might have written had he taken up his abode here as he once purposed) bright with picture, gleaming over a depth of philosophic thought,—these were the works that might fitly have flowed from such a retirement. In the humblest event, I resolved at least to achieve a novel that should evolve some deep lesson and should possess physical substance enough to stand alone.

In furtherance of my design, and as if to leave me no pretext for not fulfilling it, there was in the rear of the house the most delightful little nook of a study that ever afforded its snug seclusion to a scholar. It was here that Emerson wrote Nature; for he was then an inhabitant of the Manse, and used to watch the Assyrian dawn and Paphian sunset and moonrise from the summit of our eastern hill. When I first saw the room its walls were blackened with the smoke of unnumbered years and made still blacker by the grim prints of Puritan ministers that hung around. These worthies looked strangely like bad angels, or at least like men who had wrestled so continually and so sternly with the devil that somewhat of his sooty fierceness had been imparted to their own visages. They had all vanished now; a cheerful coat of paint and golden-tinted paper hangings lighted up the small apartment; while the shadow of a willow tree that swept against the overhanging eaves attempered the cheery western sunshine. In place of the grim prints there was the sweet and lovely head of one of Raphael’s Madonnas and two pleasant little pictures of the Lake of Como. The only other decorations were a purple vase of flowers, always fresh, and a bronze one containing graceful ferns. My books (few, and by no means choice; for they were chiefly such waifs as chance had thrown in my way) stood in order about the room, seldom to be disturbed.

The study had three windows, set with little, old-fashioned panes of glass, each with a crack across it. The two on the western side looked, or rather peeped, between the willow branches, down into the orchard, with glimpses of the river through the trees. The third, facing northward, commanded a broader view of the river, at a spot where its hitherto obscure waters gleam forth into the light of history. It was at this window that the clergyman who then dwelt in the Manse stood watching the outbreak of a long and deadly struggle between two nations: he saw the irregular array of his parishioners on the farther side of the river and the glittering line of the British on the hither bank. He awaited, in an agony of suspense, the rattle of the musketry. It came; and there needed but a gentle wind to sweep the battle smoke around this quiet house.

Perhaps the reader, whom I cannot help considering as my guest in the Old Manse and entitled to all courtesy in the way of sightshowing,—perhaps he will choose to take a nearer view of the memorable spot. We stand now on the river’s brink. It may well be called the Concord—the river of peace and quietness; for it is certainly the most unexcita- ble and sluggish stream that ever loitered imperceptibly towards its eternity—the sea. Positively I had lived three weeks beside it before it grew quite clear to my perception which way the current flowed. It never has a vivacious aspect except when a north-western breeze is vexing its surface on a sunshiny day. From the incurable indolence of its nature, the stream is happily incapable of becoming the slave of human ingenuity, as is the fate of so many a wild, free mountain torrent. While all things else are compelled to subserve some useful purpose, it idles its sluggish life away in lazy liberty, without turning a solitary spindle or affording even water power enough to grind the corn that grows upon its banks. The torpor of its movement allows it nowhere a bright, pebbly shore, nor so much as a narrow strip of glistening sand, in any part of its course. It slumbers between broad prairies, kissing the long meadow grass, and bathes the overhanging boughs of elder bushes and willows or the roots of elms and ash trees and clumps of maples. Flags and rushes grow along its plashy shore; the yellow water lily spreads its broad, flat leaves on the margin; and the fragrant white pond lily abounds, generally selecting a position just so far from the river’s brink that it cannot be grasped save at the hazard of plunging in.

It is a marvel whence this perfect flower derives its loveliness and perfume, springing as it does from the black mud over which the river sleeps, and where lurk the slimy eel, and speckled frog, and the mud turtle, whom continual washing cannot cleanse. It is the very same black mud out of which the yellow lily sucks its obscene life and noisome odor. Thus we see, too, in the world that some persons assimilate only what is ugly and evil from the same moral circumstances which supply good and beautiful results—the fragrance of celestial flowers—to the daily life of others.

The reader must not, from any testimony of mine, contract a dislike towards our slumberous stream. In the light of a calm and golden sunset it becomes lovely beyond expression; the more lovely for the quietude that so well accords with the hour, when even the wind, after blustering all day long, usually hushes itself to rest. Each tree and rock and every blade of grass is distinctly imaged, and, however unsightly in reality, assumes ideal beauty in the reflection. The minutest things of earth and the broad aspect of the firmament are pictured equally without effort and with the same felicity of success. All the sky glows downward at our feet; the rich clouds float through the unruffled bosom of the stream like heavenly thoughts through a peaceful heart. We will not, then, malign our river as gross and impure while it can glorify itself with so adequate a picture of the heaven that broods above it; or, if we remember its tawny hue and the muddiness of its bed, let it be a symbol that the earthliest human soul has an infinite spiritual capacity and may contain the better world within its depths. But, indeed, the same lesson might be drawn out of any mud puddle in the streets of a city; and, being taught us every where, it must be true.

Come, we have pursued a somewhat devious track in our walk to the battle ground. Here we are, at the point where the river was crossed by the old bridge, the possession of which was the immediate object of the contest. On the hither side grow two or three elms, throwing a wide circumference of shade, but which must have been planted at some period within the threescore years and ten that have passed since the battle day. On the farther shore, overhung by a clump of elder bushes, we discern the stone abutment of the bridge. Looking down into the river, I once discovered some heavy fragments of the timbers, all green with half a century’s growth of water moss; ...



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