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"THE Old Manse," writes Hawthorne, in his charming introduction to the quaint stories, "Mosses from an Old Manse," "had never 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 is awful to reflect how many sermons must have been written here! . . . Here it was, too, 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."
OLD MANSE, CONCORD, MASS.
Emerson's residence in the Old Manse is to be accounted for by the fact that his grandfather was its first inhabitant. And it was while living there with his mother and kindred, before his second marriage in 1835, that he produced "Nature."
It is to the parson, the Reverend William Emerson, that we owe one of the most valuable Revolutionary documents that have come down to us. Soon after the young minister came to the old Manse (which was then the New Manse), he had occasion to make in his almanac this stirring entry:
"This morning, between one and two o'clock, we were alarmed by the ringing of the, bell, and upon examination found that the troops, to the number of eight hundred, had stole their march from Boston, in boats and barges, from the bottom of the Common over to a point in Cambridge, near to Inman's farm, and were at Lexington meeting-house half an hour before sunrise, where they fired upon a body of our men, and (as we afterward heard) had killed several. This intelligence was brought us first by Doctor Samuel Prescott, who narrowly escaped the guard that were sent before on horses, purposely to prevent all posts and messengers from giving us timely information. He, by the help of a very fleet horse, crossing several walks and fences, arrived at Concord, at the time above mentioned; when several pasts were immediately dispatched that, returning, confirmed the account of the regulars' arrival at Lexington and that they were on their way to Concord. Upon this, a number of our minute-men belonging to this town, and Acton, and Lincoln, with several others that were in readiness, marched out to meet them; while the alarm company was preparing to receive, them in the town. Captain Minot, who commanded them, thought it proper to take possession of the hill above the meeting-house, as the most advantageous situation. No sooner had our men gained it, than we were met by the companies that were sent out to meet the troops, who informed us that they were just upon us, and that we must retreat, as their number was more than treble ours. We then retreated from the hill near the Liberty Pole, and took a new post back of the town upon an eminence, where we formed into two battalions, and waited the arrival of the enemy.
"Scarcely had we farmed before we saw the British troops at the distance of a quarter of a mile, glittering in arms, advancing toward us with the greatest celerity. Some were for making a stand, notwithstanding the superiority of their numbers, but others, more prudent, thought best to retreat till our strength should be equal to the enemy's by recruits from the neighbouring towns, that were continually coming in to our assistance. Accordingly we retreated over the bridge; when the troops came into the town, set fire to several carriages for the artillery, destroyed sixty barrels flour, rifled several houses, took possession of the town-house, destroyed five hundred pounds of balls, set a guard of one hundred men at the North Bridge, and sent a party to the house of Colonel Bar-rett, where they, were in the expectation of finding a quantity of warlike stores. But these were happily secured just before their arrival, by transportation into the woods and other by-places.
"In the meantime the guard sent by the enemy to secure the pass at the North Bridge were alarmed by the approach of our people; who had retreated as before mentioned, and were now advancing, with special orders not to fire upon the troops unless fired upon. These orders were so punctually observed. that we received the fire of the enemy in three several and separate discharges of their pieces before it was returned by our commanding officer; the firing then became general for several minutes; in which skirmish two were killed on each side, and several of the enemy wounded. (It may here be observed, by the way, that we were the more cautious to prevent beginning a rupture with the king's troops, as we were then uncertain what had happened at Lexington, and knew not that they had begun the quarrel there by first firing upon our people, and killing eight men upon the spot.) The three companies of troops soon quitted their post at the bridge, and retreated in the greatest disorder and confusion to the main body, who were soon upon their march to meet them.
"For half an hour the enemy, by their marches and contre-marches discovered great fickleness and inconstancy of mind, – sometimes advancing, sometimes returning to their former posts; till at length they quitted the town and retreated by the way they came. In the meantime, a party of our men (one hundred and fifty), took the back way through the Great Fields, into the Fast Quarter, and had placed themselves to advantage, lying in ambush behind walls, fences, and buildings, ready to fire upon the enemy on their retreat." 1
Here ends the important chronicle, the best first-hand account we have of the battle of Concord. But for this alone the first resident of the Old Manse deserves our memory and thanks.
Mr. Emerson was succeeded at the Manse by a certain Doctor Ripley, a venerable scholar who left behind him a reputation for learning and sanctity which was reproduced in one of the ladies of his family, long the most learned woman in the little Concord circle which Hawthorne soon after his marriage came to join.
Few New England villages have retained so much of the charm and peacefulness of country life as has Concord, and few dwellings in Concord have to-day so nearly the aspect they presented fifty years ago as does the Manse, where Hawthorne passed three of the happiest years of his life.
In the "American Note-Book," there is a charming description of the pleasure the romancer and his young wife experienced in renovating and refurnishing the old parsonage which, at the time of their going into it, was "given up to ghosts and cobwebs." Some of these ghosts have been shiveringly described by Hawthorne himself in the marvellous paragraph of the introduction already referred to: "Our [clerical] ghost used to heave deep sighs in a particular corner of the parlour, and sometimes rustle paper, as if he were turning over a sermon in the long upper entry – where, nevertheless, he was invisible, in spite of the bright moonshine that fell through the eastern window. Not improbably he wished me to edit and publish a selection from a chest full of manuscript discourses that stood in the garret.
"Once while Hillard and other friends sat talking with us in the twilight, there came a rustling noise as of a minister's silk gown sweeping through the very midst of the company, so closely as almost to brush against the chairs. Still there was nothing visible.
"A yet stranger business was that of a ghostly servant-maid, who used to be heard in the kitchen at deepest midnight, grinding coffee, cooking, ironing, –performing, in short, all kinds of domestic labour; although no traces of anything accomplished could be detected the next morning. Some neglected duty of her servitude – some ill-starched ministerial band – disturbed the poor damsel in her grave, and kept her at work without wages."
The little drawing-room once remodelled, however, and the kitchen given over to the Hawthorne pots and pans – in which the great Hawthorne himself used often to have a stake, according to the testimony of his wife, who once wrote in this connection, "Imagine those magnificent eyes fixed anxiously upon potatoes cooking in an iron kettle!" – the ghosts came no more. Of the great people who in the flesh passed pleasant hours in the little parlour, Thoreau, Ellery Channing, Emerson, and Margaret Fuller are names known by everybody as intimately connected with the Concord circle.
Hawthorne himself cared little for society. Often he would go to the village and back without speaking to a single soul, he tells us, and once when his wife was absent he resolved to pass the whole term of her visit to relatives without saying a word to any human being. With Thoreau, however, he got on very well. This odd genius was as shy and ungregarious as was the dark-eyed "teller of tales," but the two appear to have been socially disposed toward each other, and there are delightful bits in the preface to the "Mosses" in regard to the hours they spent together boating on the large, quiet Concord River. Thoreau was a great voyager in a canoe which he had constructed himself (and which he eventually made over to Hawthorne), as expert indeed in the use of his paddle as the redman who had once haunted the same silent stream.
Of the beauties of the Concord River Hawthorne has written. a few sentences that will live while the silver stream continues to flow: "It comes creeping softly through the mid-most privacy and deepest heart of a wood which whispers it to be quiet, while the stream whispers back again from its sedgy borders, as if river and wood were hushing one another to sleep. Yes; the river sleeps along its course and dreams of the sky and the clustering foliage. . . ."
Concerning the visitors attracted to Concord by the great original thinker who was Hawthorne's near neighbour, the romancer speaks with less delicate sympathy: "Never was a poor little country village infested with such a variety of queer, strangely dressed, oddly behaved mortals, most of whom look upon themselves to be important agents of the world's destiny, yet are, simply bores of a very intense character." A bit further on Hawthorne speaks of these pilgrims as "hobgoblins of flesh and blood," people, he humourously comments, who had lighted on a new thought or a thought they fancied new, and "came to Emerson as the finder of a glittering gem hastens to a lapidary to ascertain its quality and value." with Emerson himself Hawthorne was on terms of easy intimacy. "Being happy," as he says, and feeling, therefore, "as if there were no question to be put," he was not in any sense desirous of metaphysical intercourse with the great philosopher.
It was while on the way home from his friend Emerson's one day that Hawthorne had that encounter with Margaret Fuller about which it is so pleasant to read because it serves to take away the taste of other less complimentary allusions to this lady to be found in Hawthorne's works:
"After leaving Mr. Emerson's I returned through the woods, and entering Sleepy Hollow, I perceived a lady reclining near the path which bends along its verge. It was Margaret herself. She had been there the whole afternoon, meditating or reading, for she had a book in her hand with some strange title which I did not understand and have forgotten. She said that nobody had broken her solitude, and was just giving utterance to a theory that no inhabitant of Concord ever visited Sleepy Hollow, when we saw a group of people entering the sacred precincts. Most of them followed a path which led them away from us; but an old man passed near us, and smiled to see Margaret reclining on the ground and me standing by her side. He made some remark upon the beauty of the afternoon, and withdrew himself into the shadow of the wood. Then we talked about autumn, and about the pleasures of being lost in the woods, and about the crows whose voices Margaret had heard; and about the experiences of early childhood, whose influence remains upon the character after the recollection of them has passed away; and about the sight of mountains from a distance, and the view from their summits; and about other matters of high and low philosophy."
Nothing that Hawthorne has ever written of Concord is more to be cherished to-day than this description of a happy afternoon passed by him in Sleepy Hollow talking with Margaret Fuller of "matters of high and low philosophy." For there are few parts of Concord to which visitors go more religiously than to the still old cemetery, where on the hill by Ridge Path Hawthorne himself now sleeps quietly, with the grave of Thoreau just behind him, and the grave of Emerson, his philosopher friend, on the opposite side of the way. A great pine stands at the head of Hawthorne's last resting-place, and a huge unhewn block of pink marble is his formal monument.
Yet the Old Manse will, so long as it stands, be the romancer's most intimate relic, for it was here that he lived as a happy bridegroom, and here that his first child was born. And from this ancient dwelling it was that he drew the inspiration for what is perhaps the most curious book of tales in all American literature, a book of which another American master of prose 2 has said, "Hawthorne here did for our past what Walter Scott did for the past of the mother-country; another Wizard of the North, he breathed the breath of life into the dry and dusty materials of history, and summoned the great dead again to live and move among us."
1 "Historic Towns of New England." G. P. Putnam's Sons.
2 Henry James.
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