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. He finds the establishment to be a run-down place, situated on a rotting wharf in a half-finished building. Hawthorne was a complicated guy. 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 were weakness and cowardice to murmur at. Indeed, the sin of adultery has long since been committed by the time we arrive at the first page of the narrative proper.
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. It is not love, but instinct. 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. I shall do better amongst other faces; and these familiar ones, it need hardly be said, will do just as well without me. 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. 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 sows wall-flowers over the ruined fortress of Ticonderoga. Or the recently arrived sailor, pale and feeble, requesting papers to visit the hospital.
Mighty was their fuss about little matters, and marvellous, sometimes, the obtuseness that allowed greater ones to slip between their fingers! It was only with the assistance of a servant, and by leaning his hand heavily on the iron balustrade, that he could slowly and painfully ascend the Custom-House steps, and, with a toilsome progress across the floor, attain his customary chair beside the fireplace. 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. All three give glimpses of the shops of grocers, block-makers, slop-sellers, and ship-chandlers, around the doors of which are generally to be seen, laughing and gossiping, clusters of old salts, and such other wharf-rats as haunt the Wapping of a seaport. Ending this introductory essay with the sentiment of this dream is serendipitous because Hawthorne became an iconic American literary figure almost instantly after the release of The Scarlet Letter. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. See This introduction provides a frame for the main narrative of The Scarlet Letter. She was old at the time, but gracious in her posture, with a habit to go about the country and help people as a kind of voluntary nurse.
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 favourable to the mode of life in question. On the contrary, I have allowed myself, as to such points, nearly or altogether as much license as if the facts had been entirely of my own invention. Over the entrance hovers an enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a shield before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of intermingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. The package contains some fabric with a faded letter A imprinted on the cloth, with some papers describing the entire story behind the letter. 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. He describes his ancestors as severe Puritans decked out in black robes, laying harsh judgment upon people who strayed from their faith.
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. A stain on his conscience, as to any thing that came within the range of his vocation, 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 ink-blot on the fair page of a book of record. But—as thoughts are frozen and utterance benumbed, 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 not the closest friend, is listening to our talk; and then, a native reserve being thawed by this genial consciousness, we may prate of the circumstances that lie around us, and even of ourself, but still keep the inmost Me behind its veil. Could I have preserved the picturesque force of his style, and the humorous colouring which nature taught him how to throw over his descriptions, the result, I honestly believe, would have been something new in literature. 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, doing 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. The better part of my companion's character, if it have a better part, is that which usually comes uppermost in my regard, and forms the type whereby I recognise the man. His account is a mixture of fact and fiction and loosely follows the story of how Hawthorne himself came to write The Scarlet Letter.
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. It is no indication, however, of a lack of cheerfulness in the writer's 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. Many characteristics—and those, too, which contribute not the least forcibly to impart resemblance in a sketch—must have vanished, or been obscured, before I met the General. But this philosophy was eventually swallowed up by the commercialism and financial interests of the 1700s. A gift, a faculty, if it had not departed, was suspended and inanimate within me. However, we know of no serious, scholarly work that suggests Hawthorne was ever actually in possession of the letter or the manuscript.
In some other form, perhaps, I may hereafter develop these effects. 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 the other of his favourite topics, Napoleon or Shakespeare. Here, before his own wife has greeted him, you may greet the sea-flushed ship-master, just in port, with his vessel's papers under his arm in a tarnished tin box. New England Puritans were descendants of the pilgrims who traveled to North America, seeking religious freedom. There was one man, especially, the observation of whose character gave me a new idea of talent.
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. Puritans believed any deviation from biblical teachings would bring the wrath of God on the community, so governments made sins punishable offenses. When discussing his ancestors, Hawthorne is both reverent and mocking, jokingly wondering how an idler such as himself could have born from such noble lineage. The rest of the manuscript contains the information about her life and sufferings, as the novel will reveal later. 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? Or I might readily have found a more serious task.