The Blithedale Romance
Part 1 out of 4
The Blithedale Romance
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Table of Contents
I. OLD MOODIE
III. A KNOT OF DREAMERS
IV. THE SUPPER-TABLE
V. UNTIL BEDTIME
VI. COVERDALE'S SICK CHAMBER
VII. THE CONVALESCENT
VIII. A MODERN ARCADIA
IX. HOLLINGSWORTH, ZENOBIA, PRISCILLA
X. A VISITOR FROM TOWN
XI. THE WOOD-PATH
XII. COVERDALE'S HERMITAGE
XIII. ZENOBIA'S LEGEND
XIV. ELIOT'S PULPIT
XV. A CRISIS
XVII. THE HOTEL
XVIII. THE BOARDING-HOUSE
XIX. ZENOBIA'S DRAWING-ROOM
XX. THEY VANISH
XXI. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
XXIII. A VILLAGE HALL
XXIV. THE MASQUERADERS
XXV. THE THREE TOGETHER
XXVI. ZENOBIA AND COVERDALE
XXVIII. BLITHEDALE PASTURE
XXIX. MILES COVERDALE'S CONFESSION
The Blithedale Romance
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I. OLD MOODIE
The evening before my departure for Blithedale, I was returning to my
bachelor apartments, after attending the wonderful exhibition of the
Veiled Lady, when an elderly man of rather shabby appearance met me
in an obscure part of the street.
"Mr. Coverdale," said he softly, "can I speak with you a moment?"
As I have casually alluded to the Veiled Lady, it may not be amiss to
mention, for the benefit of such of my readers as are unacquainted
with her now forgotten celebrity, that she was a phenomenon in the
mesmeric line; one of the earliest that had indicated the birth of a
new science, or the revival of an old humbug. Since those times her
sisterhood have grown too numerous to attract much individual notice;
nor, in fact, has any one of them come before the public under such
skilfully contrived circumstances of stage effect as those which at
once mystified and illuminated the remarkable performances of the
lady in question. Nowadays, in the management of his "subject,"
"clairvoyant," or "medium," the exhibitor affects the simplicity and
openness of scientific experiment; and even if he profess to tread a
step or two across the boundaries of the spiritual world, yet carries
with him the laws of our actual life and extends them over his
preternatural conquests. Twelve or fifteen years ago, on the
contrary, all the arts of mysterious arrangement, of picturesque
disposition, and artistically contrasted light and shade, were made
available, in order to set the apparent miracle in the strongest
attitude of opposition to ordinary facts. In the case of the Veiled
Lady, moreover, the interest of the spectator was further wrought up
by the enigma of her identity, and an absurd rumor (probably set
afloat by the exhibitor, and at one time very prevalent) that a
beautiful young lady, of family and fortune, was enshrouded within
the misty drapery of the veil. It was white, with somewhat of a
subdued silver sheen, like the sunny side of a cloud; and, falling
over the wearer from head to foot, was supposed to insulate her from
the material world, from time and space, and to endow her with many
of the privileges of a disembodied spirit.
Her pretensions, however, whether miraculous or otherwise, have
little to do with the present narrative--except, indeed, that I had
propounded, for the Veiled Lady's prophetic solution, a query as to
the success of our Blithedale enterprise. The response, by the bye,
was of the true Sibylline stamp,--nonsensical in its first aspect,
yet on closer study unfolding a variety of interpretations, one of
which has certainly accorded with the event. I was turning over this
riddle in my mind, and trying to catch its slippery purport by the
tail, when the old man above mentioned interrupted me.
"Mr. Coverdale!--Mr. Coverdale!" said he, repeating my name twice, in
order to make up for the hesitating and ineffectual way in which he
uttered it. "I ask your pardon, sir, but I hear you are going to
I knew the pale, elderly face, with the red-tipt nose, and the patch
over one eye; and likewise saw something characteristic in the old
fellow's way of standing under the arch of a gate, only revealing
enough of himself to make me recognize him as an acquaintance. He
was a very shy personage, this Mr. Moodie; and the trait was the more
singular, as his mode of getting his bread necessarily brought him
into the stir and hubbub of the world more than the generality of men.
"Yes, Mr. Moodie," I answered, wondering what interest he could take
in the fact, "it is my intention to go to Blithedale to-morrow. Can
I be of any service to you before my departure?"
"If you pleased, Mr. Coverdale," said he, "you might do me a very
"A very great one?" repeated I, in a tone that must have expressed
but little alacrity of beneficence, although I was ready to do the
old man any amount of kindness involving no special trouble to myself.
"A very great favor, do you say? My time is brief, Mr. Moodie, and
I have a good many preparations to make. But be good enough to tell
me what you wish."
"Ah, sir," replied Old Moodie, "I don't quite like to do that; and,
on further thoughts, Mr. Coverdale, perhaps I had better apply to
some older gentleman, or to some lady, if you would have the kindness
to make me known to one, who may happen to be going to Blithedale.
You are a young man, sir!"
"Does that fact lessen my availability for your purpose?" asked I.
"However, if an older man will suit you better, there is Mr.
Hollingsworth, who has three or four years the advantage of me in age,
and is a much more solid character, and a philanthropist to boot. I
am only a poet, and, so the critics tell me, no great affair at that!
But what can this business be, Mr. Moodie? It begins to interest me;
especially since your hint that a lady's influence might be found
desirable. Come, I am really anxious to be of service to you."
But the old fellow, in his civil and demure manner, was both freakish
and obstinate; and he had now taken some notion or other into his
head that made him hesitate in his former design.
"I wonder, sir," said he, "whether you know a lady whom they call
"Not personally," I answered, "although I expect that pleasure
to-morrow, as she has got the start of the rest of us, and is already
a resident at Blithedale. But have you a literary turn, Mr. Moodie?
or have you taken up the advocacy of women's rights? or what else can
have interested you in this lady? Zenobia, by the bye, as I suppose
you know, is merely her public name; a sort of mask in which she
comes before the world, retaining all the privileges of privacy,--a
contrivance, in short, like the white drapery of the Veiled Lady,
only a little more transparent. But it is late. Will you tell me
what I can do for you?"
"Please to excuse me to-night, Mr. Coverdale," said Moodie. "You are
very kind; but I am afraid I have troubled you, when, after all,
there may be no need. Perhaps, with your good leave, I will come to
your lodgings to-morrow morning, before you set out for Blithedale.
I wish you a good-night, sir, and beg pardon for stopping you."
And so he slipt away; and, as he did not show himself the next
morning, it was only through subsequent events that I ever arrived at
a plausible conjecture as to what his business could have been.
Arriving at my room, I threw a lump of cannel coal upon the grate,
lighted a cigar, and spent an hour in musings of every hue, from the
brightest to the most sombre; being, in truth, not so very confident
as at some former periods that this final step, which would mix me up
irrevocably with the Blithedale affair, was the wisest that could
possibly be taken. It was nothing short of midnight when I went to
bed, after drinking a glass of particularly fine sherry on which I
used to pride myself in those days. It was the very last bottle; and
I finished it, with a friend, the next forenoon, before setting out
There can hardly remain for me (who am really getting to be a frosty
bachelor, with another white hair, every week or so, in my mustache),
there can hardly flicker up again so cheery a blaze upon the hearth,
as that which I remember, the next day, at Blithedale. It was a wood
fire, in the parlor of an old farmhouse, on an April afternoon, but
with the fitful gusts of a wintry snowstorm roaring in the chimney.
Vividly does that fireside re-create itself, as I rake away the ashes
from the embers in my memory, and blow them up with a sigh, for lack
of more inspiring breath. Vividly for an instant, but anon, with the
dimmest gleam, and with just as little fervency for my heart as for
my finger-ends! The staunch oaken logs were long ago burnt out.
Their genial glow must be represented, if at all, by the merest
phosphoric glimmer, like that which exudes, rather than shines, from
damp fragments of decayed trees, deluding the benighted wanderer
through a forest. Around such chill mockery of a fire some few of us
might sit on the withered leaves, spreading out each a palm towards
the imaginary warmth, and talk over our exploded scheme for beginning
the life of Paradise anew.
Paradise, indeed! Nobody else in the world, I am bold to
affirm--nobody, at least, in our bleak little world of New England,--
had dreamed of Paradise that day except as the pole suggests the
tropic. Nor, with such materials as were at hand, could the most
skilful architect have constructed any better imitation of Eve's
bower than might be seen in the snow hut of an Esquimaux. But we
made a summer of it, in spite of the wild drifts.
It was an April day, as already hinted, and well towards the middle
of the month. When morning dawned upon me, in town, its temperature
was mild enough to be pronounced even balmy, by a lodger, like myself,
in one of the midmost houses of a brick block,--each house partaking
of the warmth of all the rest, besides the sultriness of its
individual furnace--heat. But towards noon there had come snow,
driven along the street by a northeasterly blast, and whitening the
roofs and sidewalks with a business-like perseverance that would have
done credit to our severest January tempest. It set about its task
apparently as much in earnest as if it had been guaranteed from a
thaw for months to come. The greater, surely, was my heroism, when,
puffing out a final whiff of cigar-smoke, I quitted my cosey pair of
bachelor-rooms,--with a good fire burning in the grate, and a closet
right at hand, where there was still a bottle or two in the champagne
basket and a residuum of claret in a box,--quitted, I say, these
comfortable quarters, and plunged into the heart of the pitiless
snowstorm, in quest of a better life.
The better life! Possibly, it would hardly look so now; it is enough
if it looked so then. The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the
doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the
truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom to
know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed.
Yet, after all, let us acknowledge it wiser, if not more sagacious,
to follow out one's daydream to its natural consummation, although,
if the vision have been worth the having, it is certain never to be
consummated otherwise than by a failure. And what of that? Its
airiest fragments, impalpable as they may be, will possess a value
that lurks not in the most ponderous realities of any practicable
scheme. They are not the rubbish of the mind. Whatever else I may
repent of, therefore, let it be reckoned neither among my sins nor
follies that I once had faith and force enough to form generous hopes
of the world's destiny--yes!--and to do what in me lay for their
accomplishment; even to the extent of quitting a warm fireside,
flinging away a freshly lighted cigar, and travelling far beyond the
strike of city clocks, through a drifting snowstorm.
There were four of us who rode together through the storm; and
Hollingsworth, who had agreed to be of the number, was accidentally
delayed, and set forth at a later hour alone. As we threaded the
streets, I remember how the buildings on either side seemed to press
too closely upon us, insomuch that our mighty hearts found barely
room enough to throb between them. The snowfall, too, looked
inexpressibly dreary (I had almost called it dingy), coming down
through an atmosphere of city smoke, and alighting on the sidewalk
only to be moulded into the impress of somebody's patched boot or
overshoe. Thus the track of an old conventionalism was visible on
what was freshest from the sky. But when we left the pavements, and
our muffled hoof-tramps beat upon a desolate extent of country road,
and were effaced by the unfettered blast as soon as stamped, then
there was better air to breathe. Air that had not been breathed once
and again! air that had not been spoken into words of falsehood,
formality, and error, like all the air of the dusky city!
"How pleasant it is!" remarked I, while the snowflakes flew into my
mouth the moment it was opened. "How very mild and balmy is this
"Ah, Coverdale, don't laugh at what little enthusiasm you have left!"
said one of my companions. "I maintain that this nitrous atmosphere
is really exhilarating; and, at any rate, we can never call ourselves
regenerated men till a February northeaster shall be as grateful to
us as the softest breeze of June!"
So we all of us took courage, riding fleetly and merrily along, by
stone fences that were half buried in the wave-like drifts; and
through patches of woodland, where the tree-trunks opposed a
snow-incrusted side towards the northeast; and within ken of deserted
villas, with no footprints in their avenues; and passed scattered
dwellings, whence puffed the smoke of country fires, strongly
impregnated with the pungent aroma of burning peat. Sometimes,
encountering a traveller, we shouted a friendly greeting; and he,
unmuffling his ears to the bluster and the snow-spray, and listening
eagerly, appeared to think our courtesy worth less than the trouble
which it cost him. The churl! He understood the shrill whistle of
the blast, but had no intelligence for our blithe tones of
brotherhood. This lack of faith in our cordial sympathy, on the
traveller's part, was one among the innumerable tokens how difficult
a task we had in hand for the reformation of the world. We rode on,
however, with still unflagging spirits, and made such good
companionship with the tempest that, at our journey's end, we
professed ourselves almost loath to bid the rude blusterer good-by.
But, to own the truth, I was little better than an icicle, and began
to be suspicious that I had caught a fearful cold.
And now we were seated by the brisk fireside of the old farmhouse,
the same fire that glimmers so faintly among my reminiscences at the
beginning of this chapter. There we sat, with the snow melting out
of our hair and beards, and our faces all ablaze, what with the past
inclemency and present warmth. It was, indeed, a right good fire
that we found awaiting us, built up of great, rough logs, and knotty
limbs, and splintered fragments of an oak-tree, such as farmers are
wont to keep for their own hearths, since these crooked and
unmanageable boughs could never be measured into merchantable cords
for the market. A family of the old Pilgrims might have swung their
kettle over precisely such a fire as this, only, no doubt, a bigger
one; and, contrasting it with my coal-grate, I felt so much the more
that we had transported ourselves a world-wide distance from the
system of society that shackled us at breakfast-time.
Good, comfortable Mrs. Foster (the wife of stout Silas Foster, who
was to manage the farm at a fair stipend, and be our tutor in the art
of husbandry) bade us a hearty welcome. At her back--a back of
generous breadth--appeared two young women, smiling most hospitably,
but looking rather awkward withal, as not well knowing what was to be
their position in our new arrangement of the world. We shook hands
affectionately all round, and congratulated ourselves that the
blessed state of brotherhood and sisterhood, at which we aimed, might
fairly be dated from this moment. Our greetings were hardly
concluded when the door opened, and Zenobia--whom I had never before
seen, important as was her place in our enterprise--Zenobia entered
This (as the reader, if at all acquainted with our literary biography,
need scarcely be told) was not her real name. She had assumed it,
in the first instance, as her magazine signature; and, as it accorded
well with something imperial which her friends attributed to this
lady's figure and deportment, they half-laughingly adopted it in
their familiar intercourse with her. She took the appellation in
good part, and even encouraged its constant use; which, in fact, was
thus far appropriate, that our Zenobia, however humble looked her new
philosophy, had as much native pride as any queen would have known
what to do with.
III. A KNOT OF DREAMERS
Zenobia bade us welcome, in a fine, frank, mellow voice, and gave
each of us her hand, which was very soft and warm. She had something
appropriate, I recollect, to say to every individual; and what she
said to myself was this:--"I have long wished to know you, Mr.
Coverdale, and to thank you for your beautiful poetry, some of which
I have learned by heart; or rather it has stolen into my memory,
without my exercising any choice or volition about the matter. Of
course--permit me to say you do not think of relinquishing an
occupation in which you have done yourself so much credit. I would
almost rather give you up as an associate, than that the world should
lose one of its true poets!"
"Ah, no; there will not be the slightest danger of that, especially
after this inestimable praise from Zenobia," said I, smiling, and
blushing, no doubt, with excess of pleasure. "I hope, on the
contrary, now to produce something that shall really deserve to be
called poetry,--true, strong, natural, and sweet, as is the life
which we are going to lead,--something that shall have the notes of
wild birds twittering through it, or a strain like the wind anthems
in the woods, as the case may be."
"Is it irksome to you to hear your own verses sung?" asked Zenobia,
with a gracious smile. "If so, I am very sorry, for you will
certainly hear me singing them sometimes, in the summer evenings."
"Of all things," answered I, "that is what will delight me most."
While this passed, and while she spoke to my companions, I was taking
note of Zenobia's aspect; and it impressed itself on me so distinctly,
that I can now summon her up, like a ghost, a little wanner than the
life but otherwise identical with it. She was dressed as simply as
possible, in an American print (I think the dry-goods people call it
so), but with a silken kerchief, between which and her gown there was
one glimpse of a white shoulder. It struck me as a great piece of
good fortune that there should be just that glimpse. Her hair, which
was dark, glossy, and of singular abundance, was put up rather
soberly and primly--without curls, or other ornament, except a single
flower. It was an exotic of rare beauty, and as fresh as if the
hothouse gardener had just clipt it from the stem. That flower has
struck deep root into my memory. I can both see it and smell it, at
this moment. So brilliant, so rare, so costly as it must have been,
and yet enduring only for a day, it was more indicative of the pride
and pomp which had a luxuriant growth in Zenobia's character than if
a great diamond had sparkled among her hair.
Her hand, though very soft, was larger than most women would like to
have, or than they could afford to have, though not a whit too large
in proportion with the spacious plan of Zenobia's entire development.
It did one good to see a fine intellect (as hers really was,
although its natural tendency lay in another direction than towards
literature) so fitly cased. She was, indeed, an admirable figure of
a woman, just on the hither verge of her richest maturity, with a
combination of features which it is safe to call remarkably beautiful,
even if some fastidious persons might pronounce them a little
deficient in softness and delicacy. But we find enough of those
attributes everywhere. Preferable--by way of variety, at least--was
Zenobia's bloom, health, and vigor, which she possessed in such
overflow that a man might well have fallen in love with her for their
sake only. In her quiet moods, she seemed rather indolent; but when
really in earnest, particularly if there were a spice of bitter
feeling, she grew all alive to her finger-tips.
"I am the first comer," Zenobia went on to say, while her smile
beamed warmth upon us all; "so I take the part of hostess for to-day,
and welcome you as if to my own fireside. You shall be my guests,
too, at supper. Tomorrow, if you please, we will be brethren and
sisters, and begin our new life from daybreak."
"Have we our various parts assigned?" asked some one.
"Oh, we of the softer sex," responded Zenobia, with her mellow,
almost broad laugh,--most delectable to hear, but not in the least
like an ordinary woman's laugh,--"we women (there are four of us here
already) will take the domestic and indoor part of the business, as a
matter of course. To bake, to boil, to roast, to fry, to stew,--to
wash, and iron, and scrub, and sweep,--and, at our idler intervals,
to repose ourselves on knitting and sewing,--these, I suppose, must
be feminine occupations, for the present. By and by, perhaps, when
our individual adaptations begin to develop themselves, it may be
that some of us who wear the petticoat will go afield, and leave the
weaker brethren to take our places in the kitchen."
"What a pity," I remarked, "that the kitchen, and the housework
generally, cannot be left out of our system altogether! It is odd
enough that the kind of labor which falls to the lot of women is just
that which chiefly distinguishes artificial life--the life of
degenerated mortals--from the life of Paradise. Eve had no
dinner-pot, and no clothes to mend, and no washing-day."
"I am afraid," said Zenobia, with mirth gleaming out of her eyes, "we
shall find some difficulty in adopting the paradisiacal system for at
least a month to come. Look at that snowdrift sweeping past the
window! Are there any figs ripe, do you think? Have the pineapples
been gathered to-day? Would you like a bread-fruit, or a cocoanut?
Shall I run out and pluck you some roses? No, no, Mr. Coverdale; the
only flower hereabouts is the one in my hair, which I got out of a
greenhouse this morning. As for the garb of Eden," added she,
shivering playfully, "I shall not assume it till after May-day!"
Assuredly Zenobia could not have intended it,--the fault must have
been entirely in my imagination. But these last words, together with
something in her manner, irresistibly brought up a picture of that
fine, perfectly developed figure, in Eve's earliest garment. Her
free, careless, generous modes of expression often had this effect of
creating images which, though pure, are hardly felt to be quite
decorous when born of a thought that passes between man and woman. I
imputed it, at that time, to Zenobia's noble courage, conscious of no
harm, and scorning the petty restraints which take the life and color
out of other women's conversation. There was another peculiarity
about her. We seldom meet with women nowadays, and in this country,
who impress us as being women at all,--their sex fades away and goes
for nothing, in ordinary intercourse. Not so with Zenobia. One felt
an influence breathing out of her such as we might suppose to come
from Eve, when she was just made, and her Creator brought her to Adam,
saying, "Behold! here is a woman!" Not that I would convey the idea
of especial gentleness, grace, modesty, and shyness, but of a certain
warm and rich characteristic, which seems, for the most part, to have
been refined away out of the feminine system.
"And now," continued Zenobia, "I must go and help get supper. Do you
think you can be content, instead of figs, pineapples, and all the
other delicacies of Adam's supper-table, with tea and toast, and a
certain modest supply of ham and tongue, which, with the instinct of
a housewife, I brought hither in a basket? And there shall be bread
and milk, too, if the innocence of your taste demands it."
The whole sisterhood now went about their domestic avocations,
utterly declining our offers to assist, further than by bringing wood
for the kitchen fire from a huge pile in the back yard. After
heaping up more than a sufficient quantity, we returned to the
sitting-room, drew our chairs close to the hearth, and began to talk
over our prospects. Soon, with a tremendous stamping in the entry,
appeared Silas Foster, lank, stalwart, uncouth, and grizzly-bearded.
He came from foddering the cattle in the barn, and from the field,
where he had been ploughing, until the depth of the snow rendered it
impossible to draw a furrow. He greeted us in pretty much the same
tone as if he were speaking to his oxen, took a quid from his iron
tobacco-box, pulled off his wet cowhide boots, and sat down before
the fire in his stocking-feet. The steam arose from his soaked
garments, so that the stout yeoman looked vaporous and spectre-like.
"Well, folks," remarked Silas, "you'll be wishing yourselves back to
town again, if this weather holds."
And, true enough, there was a look of gloom, as the twilight fell
silently and sadly out of the sky, its gray or sable flakes
intermingling themselves with the fast-descending snow. The storm,
in its evening aspect, was decidedly dreary. It seemed to have
arisen for our especial behoof,--a symbol of the cold, desolate,
distrustful phantoms that invariably haunt the mind, on the eve of
adventurous enterprises, to warn us back within the boundaries of
But our courage did not quail. We would not allow ourselves to be
depressed by the snowdrift trailing past the window, any more than if
it had been the sigh of a summer wind among rustling boughs. There
have been few brighter seasons for us than that. If ever men might
lawfully dream awake, and give utterance to their wildest visions
without dread of laughter or scorn on the part of the audience,--yes,
and speak of earthly happiness, for themselves and mankind, as an
object to be hopefully striven for, and probably attained, we who
made that little semicircle round the blazing fire were those very
men. We had left the rusty iron framework of society behind us; we
had broken through many hindrances that are powerful enough to keep
most people on the weary treadmill of the established system, even
while they feel its irksomeness almost as intolerable as we did. We
had stepped down from the pulpit; we had flung aside the pen; we had
shut up the ledger; we had thrown off that sweet, bewitching,
enervating indolence, which is better, after all, than most of the
enjoyments within mortal grasp. It was our purpose--a generous one,
certainly, and absurd, no doubt, in full proportion with its
generosity--to give up whatever we had heretofore attained, for the
sake of showing mankind the example of a life governed by other than
the false and cruel principles on which human society has all along
And, first of all, we had divorced ourselves from pride, and were
striving to supply its place with familiar love. We meant to lessen
the laboring man's great burden of toil, by performing our due share
of it at the cost of our own thews and sinews. We sought our profit
by mutual aid, instead of wresting it by the strong hand from an
enemy, or filching it craftily from those less shrewd than ourselves
(if, indeed, there were any such in New England), or winning it by
selfish competition with a neighbor; in one or another of which
fashions every son of woman both perpetrates and suffers his share of
the common evil, whether he chooses it or no. And, as the basis of
our institution, we purposed to offer up the earnest toil of our
bodies, as a prayer no less than an effort for the advancement of our
Therefore, if we built splendid castles (phalansteries perhaps they
might be more fitly called), and pictured beautiful scenes, among the
fervid coals of the hearth around which we were clustering, and if
all went to rack with the crumbling embers and have never since
arisen out of the ashes, let us take to ourselves no shame. In my
own behalf, I rejoice that I could once think better of the world's
improvability than it deserved. It is a mistake into which men
seldom fall twice in a lifetime; or, if so, the rarer and higher is
the nature that can thus magnanimously persist in error.
Stout Silas Foster mingled little in our conversation; but when he
did speak, it was very much to some practical purpose. For instance:--
"Which man among you," quoth he, "is the best judge of swine? Some
of us must go to the next Brighton fair, and buy half a dozen pigs."
Pigs! Good heavens! had we come out from among the swinish multitude
for this? And again, in reference to some discussion about raising
early vegetables for the market:--"We shall never make any hand at
market gardening," said Silas Foster, "unless the women folks will
undertake to do all the weeding. We haven't team enough for that and
the regular farm-work, reckoning three of your city folks as worth
one common field-hand. No, no; I tell you, we should have to get up
a little too early in the morning, to compete with the market
gardeners round Boston."
It struck me as rather odd, that one of the first questions raised,
after our separation from the greedy, struggling, self-seeking world,
should relate to the possibility of getting the advantage over the
outside barbarians in their own field of labor. But, to own the
truth, I very soon became sensible that, as regarded society at large,
we stood in a position of new hostility, rather than new brotherhood.
Nor could this fail to be the case, in some degree, until the
bigger and better half of society should range itself on our side.
Constituting so pitiful a minority as now, we were inevitably
estranged from the rest of mankind in pretty fair proportion with the
strictness of our mutual bond among ourselves.
This dawning idea, however, was driven back into my inner
consciousness by the entrance of Zenobia. She came with the welcome
intelligence that supper was on the table. Looking at herself in the
glass, and perceiving that her one magnificent flower had grown
rather languid (probably by being exposed to the fervency of the
kitchen fire), she flung it on the floor, as unconcernedly as a
village girl would throw away a faded violet. The action seemed
proper to her character, although, methought, it would still more
have befitted the bounteous nature of this beautiful woman to scatter
fresh flowers from her hand, and to revive faded ones by her touch.
Nevertheless, it was a singular but irresistible effect; the presence
of Zenobia caused our heroic enterprise to show like an illusion, a
masquerade, a pastoral, a counterfeit Arcadia, in which we grown-up
men and women were making a play-day of the years that were given us
to live in. I tried to analyze this impression, but not with much
"It really vexes me," observed Zenobia, as we left the room, "that Mr.
Hollingsworth should be such a laggard. I should not have thought
him at all the sort of person to be turned back by a puff of contrary
wind, or a few snowflakes drifting into his face."
"Do you know Hollingsworth personally?" I inquired.
"No; only as an auditor--auditress, I mean--of some of his lectures,"
said she. "What a voice he has! and what a man he is! Yet not so
much an intellectual man, I should say, as a great heart; at least,
he moved me more deeply than I think myself capable of being moved,
except by the stroke of a true, strong heart against my own. It is a
sad pity that he should have devoted his glorious powers to such a
grimy, unbeautiful, and positively hopeless object as this
reformation of criminals, about which he makes himself and his
wretchedly small audiences so very miserable. To tell you a secret,
I never could tolerate a philanthropist before. Could you?"
"By no means," I answered; "neither can I now."
"They are, indeed, an odiously disagreeable set of mortals,"
continued Zenobia. "I should like Mr. Hollingsworth a great deal
better if the philanthropy had been left out. At all events, as a
mere matter of taste, I wish he would let the bad people alone, and
try to benefit those who are not already past his help. Do you
suppose he will be content to spend his life, or even a few months of
it, among tolerably virtuous and comfortable individuals like
"Upon my word, I doubt it," said I. "If we wish to keep him with us,
we must systematically commit at least one crime apiece! Mere
peccadillos will not satisfy him."
Zenobia turned, sidelong, a strange kind of a glance upon me; but,
before I could make out what it meant, we had entered the kitchen,
where, in accordance with the rustic simplicity of our new life, the
supper-table was spread.
IV. THE SUPPER-TABLE
The pleasant firelight! I must still keep harping on it. The
kitchen hearth had an old-fashioned breadth, depth, and spaciousness,
far within which lay what seemed the butt of a good-sized oak-tree,
with the moisture bubbling merrily out at both ends. It was now half
an hour beyond dusk. The blaze from an armful of substantial sticks,
rendered more combustible by brushwood and pine, flickered powerfully
on the smoke-blackened walls, and so cheered our spirits that we
cared not what inclemency might rage and roar on the other side of
our illuminated windows. A yet sultrier warmth was bestowed by a
goodly quantity of peat, which was crumbling to white ashes among the
burning brands, and incensed the kitchen with its not ungrateful
fragrance. The exuberance of this household fire would alone have
sufficed to bespeak us no true farmers; for the New England yeoman,
if he have the misfortune to dwell within practicable distance of a
wood-market, is as niggardly of each stick as if it were a bar of
But it was fortunate for us, on that wintry eve of our untried life,
to enjoy the warm and radiant luxury of a somewhat too abundant fire.
If it served no other purpose, it made the men look so full of youth,
warm blood, and hope, and the women--such of them, at least, as were
anywise convertible by its magic--so very beautiful, that I would
cheerfully have spent my last dollar to prolong the blaze. As for
Zenobia, there was a glow in her cheeks that made me think of Pandora,
fresh from Vulcan's workshop, and full of the celestial warmth by
dint of which he had tempered and moulded her.
"Take your places, my dear friends all," cried she; "seat yourselves
without ceremony, and you shall be made happy with such tea as not
many of the world's working-people, except yourselves, will find in
their cups to-night. After this one supper, you may drink buttermilk,
if you please. To-night we will quaff this nectar, which, I assure
you, could not be bought with gold."
We all sat down,--grizzly Silas Foster, his rotund helpmate, and the
two bouncing handmaidens, included,--and looked at one another in a
friendly but rather awkward way. It was the first practical trial of
our theories of equal brotherhood and sisterhood; and we people of
superior cultivation and refinement (for as such, I presume, we
unhesitatingly reckoned ourselves) felt as if something were already
accomplished towards the millennium of love. The truth is, however,
that the laboring
oar was with our unpolished companions; it being far easier to
condescend than to accept of condescension. Neither did I refrain
from questioning, in secret, whether some of us--and Zenobia among
the rest--would so quietly have taken our places among these good
people, save for the cherished consciousness that it was not by
necessity but choice. Though we saw fit to drink our tea out of
earthen cups to-night, and in earthen company, it was at our own
option to use pictured porcelain and handle silver forks again
to-morrow. This same salvo, as to the power of regaining our former
position, contributed much, I fear, to the equanimity with which we
subsequently bore many of the hardships and humiliations of a life of
toil. If ever I have deserved (which has not often been the case,
and, I think, never), but if ever I did deserve to be soundly cuffed
by a fellow mortal, for secretly putting weight upon some imaginary
social advantage, it must have been while I was striving to prove
myself ostentatiously his equal and no more. It was while I sat
beside him on his cobbler's bench, or clinked my hoe against his own
in the cornfield, or broke the same crust of bread, my earth-grimed
hand to his, at our noontide lunch. The poor, proud man should look
at both sides of sympathy like this.
The silence which followed upon our sitting down to table grew rather
oppressive; indeed, it was hardly broken by a word, during the first
round of Zenobia's fragrant tea.
"I hope," said I, at last, "that our blazing windows will be visible
a great way off. There is nothing so pleasant and encouraging to a
solitary traveller, on a stormy night, as a flood of firelight seen
amid the gloom. These ruddy window panes cannot fail to cheer the
hearts of all that look at them. Are they not warm with the
beacon-fire which we have kindled for humanity?"
"The blaze of that brushwood will only last a minute or two longer,"
observed Silas Foster; but whether he meant to insinuate that our
moral illumination would have as brief a term, I cannot say.
"Meantime," said Zenobia, "it may serve to guide some wayfarer to a
And, just as she said this, there came a knock at the house door.
"There is one of the world's wayfarers," said I. "Ay, ay, just so!"
quoth Silas Foster. "Our firelight will draw stragglers, just as a
candle draws dorbugs on a summer night."
Whether to enjoy a dramatic suspense, or that we were selfishly
contrasting our own comfort with the chill and dreary situation of
the unknown person at the threshold, or that some of us city folk
felt a little startled at the knock which came so unseasonably,
through night and storm, to the door of the lonely farmhouse,--so it
happened that nobody, for an instant or two, arose to answer the
summons. Pretty soon there came another knock. The first had been
moderately loud; the second was smitten so forcibly that the knuckles
of the applicant must have left their mark in the door panel.
"He knocks as if he had a right to come in," said Zenobia, laughing.
"And what are we thinking of?--It must be Mr. Hollingsworth!"
Hereupon I went to the door, unbolted, and flung it wide open. There,
sure enough, stood Hollingsworth, his shaggy greatcoat all covered
with snow, so that he looked quite as much like a polar bear as a
"Sluggish hospitality this!" said he, in those deep tones of his,
which seemed to come out of a chest as capacious as a barrel. "It
would have served you right if I had lain down and spent the night on
the doorstep, just for the sake of putting you to shame. But here is
a guest who will need a warmer and softer bed."
And, stepping back to the wagon in which he had journeyed hither,
Hollingsworth received into his arms and deposited on the doorstep a
figure enveloped in a cloak. It was evidently a woman; or, rather,--
judging from the ease with which he lifted her, and the little
space which she seemed to fill in his arms, a slim and unsubstantial
girl. As she showed some hesitation about entering the door,
Hollingsworth, with his usual directness and lack of ceremony, urged
her forward not merely within the entry, but into the warm and
strongly lighted kitchen.
"Who is this?" whispered I, remaining behind with him, while he was
taking off his greatcoat.
"Who? Really, I don't know," answered Hollingsworth, looking at me
with some surprise. "It is a young person who belongs here, however;
and no doubt she had been expected. Zenobia, or some of the women
folks, can tell you all about it."
"I think not," said I, glancing towards the new-comer and the other
occupants of the kitchen. "Nobody seems to welcome her. I should
hardly judge that she was an expected guest."
"Well, well," said Hollingsworth quietly, "We'll make it right."
The stranger, or whatever she were, remained standing precisely on
that spot of the kitchen floor to which Hollingsworth's kindly hand
had impelled her. The cloak falling partly off, she was seen to be a
very young woman dressed in a poor but decent gown, made high in the
neck, and without any regard to fashion or smartness. Her brown hair
fell down from beneath a hood, not in curls but with only a slight
wave; her face was of a wan, almost sickly hue, betokening habitual
seclusion from the sun and free atmosphere, like a flower-shrub that
had done its best to blossom in too scanty light. To complete the
pitiableness of her aspect, she shivered either with cold, or fear,
or nervous excitement, so that you might have beheld her shadow
vibrating on the fire-lighted wall. In short, there has seldom been
seen so depressed and sad a figure as this young girl's; and it was
hardly possible to help being angry with her, from mere despair of
doing anything for her comfort. The fantasy occurred to me that she
was some desolate kind of a creature, doomed to wander about in
snowstorms; and that, though the ruddiness of our window panes had
tempted her into a human dwelling, she would not remain long enough
to melt the icicles out of her hair. Another conjecture likewise
came into my mind. Recollecting Hollingsworth's sphere of
philanthropic action, I deemed it possible that he might have brought
one of his guilty patients, to be wrought upon and restored to
spiritual health by the pure influences which our mode of life would
As yet the girl had not stirred. She stood near the door, fixing a
pair of large, brown, melancholy eyes upon Zenobia--only upon Zenobia!--
she evidently saw nothing else in the room save that bright, fair,
rosy, beautiful woman. It was the strangest look I ever witnessed;
long a mystery to me, and forever a memory. Once she seemed about to
move forward and greet her,--I know not with what warmth or with what
words,--but, finally, instead of doing so, she dropped down upon her
knees, clasped her hands, and gazed piteously into Zenobia's face.
Meeting no kindly reception, her head fell on her bosom.
I never thoroughly forgave Zenobia for her conduct on this occasion.
But women are always more cautious in their casual hospitalities than
"What does the girl mean?" cried she in rather a sharp tone. "Is she
crazy? Has she no tongue?"
And here Hollingsworth stepped forward.
"No wonder if the poor child's tongue is frozen in her mouth," said
he; and I think he positively frowned at Zenobia. "The very heart
will be frozen in her bosom, unless you women can warm it, among you,
with the warmth that ought to be in your own!"
Hollingsworth's appearance was very striking at this moment. He was
then about thirty years old, but looked several years older, with his
great shaggy head, his heavy brow, his dark complexion, his abundant
beard, and the rude strength with which his features seemed to have
been hammered out of iron, rather than chiselled or moulded from any
finer or softer material. His figure was not tall, but massive and
brawny, and well befitting his original occupation; which as the
reader probably knows--was that of a blacksmith. As for external
polish, or mere courtesy of manner, he never possessed more than a
tolerably educated bear; although, in his gentler moods, there was a
tenderness in his voice, eyes, mouth, in his gesture, and in every
indescribable manifestation, which few men could resist and no woman.
But he now looked stern and reproachful; and it was with that
inauspicious meaning in his glance that Hollingsworth first met
Zenobia's eyes, and began his influence upon her life.
To my surprise, Zenobia--of whose haughty spirit I had been told so
many examples--absolutely changed color, and seemed mortified and
"You do not quite do me justice, Mr. Hollingsworth," said she almost
humbly. "I am willing to be kind to the poor girl. Is she a
protegee of yours? What can I do for her?"
"Have you anything to ask of this lady?" said Hollingsworth kindly to
the girl. "I remember you mentioned her name before we left town."
"Only that she will shelter me," replied the girl tremulously. "Only
that she will let me be always near her."
"Well, indeed," exclaimed Zenobia, recovering herself and laughing,
"this is an adventure, and well-worthy to be the first incident in
our life of love and free-heartedness! But I accept it, for the
present, without further question, only," added she, "it would be a
convenience if we knew your name."
"Priscilla," said the girl; and it appeared to me that she hesitated
whether to add anything more, and decided in the negative. "Pray do
not ask me my other name,--at least not yet,--if you will be so kind
to a forlorn creature."
Priscilla!--Priscilla! I repeated the name to myself three or four
times; and in that little space, this quaint and prim cognomen had so
amalgamated itself with my idea of the girl, that it seemed as if no
other name could have adhered to her for a moment. Heretofore the
poor thing had not shed any tears; but now that she found herself
received, and at least temporarily established, the big drops began
to ooze out from beneath her eyelids as if she were full of them.
Perhaps it showed the iron substance of my heart, that I could not
help smiling at this odd scene of unknown and unaccountable calamity,
into which our cheerful party had been entrapped without the liberty
of choosing whether to sympathize or no. Hollingsworth's behavior
was certainly a great deal more creditable than mine.
"Let us not pry further into her secrets," he said to Zenobia and the
rest of us, apart; and his dark, shaggy face looked really beautiful
with its expression of thoughtful benevolence. "Let us conclude that
Providence has sent her to us, as the first-fruits of the world,
which we have undertaken to make happier than we find it. Let us
warm her poor, shivering body with this good fire, and her poor,
shivering heart with our best kindness. Let us feed her, and make
her one of us. As we do by this friendless girl, so shall we prosper.
And, in good time, whatever is desirable for us to know will be
melted out of her, as inevitably as those tears which we see now."
"At least," remarked I, "you may tell us how and where you met with
"An old man brought her to my lodgings," answered Hollingsworth, "and
begged me to convey her to Blithedale, where--so I understood
him--she had friends; and this is positively all I know about the
Grim Silas Foster, all this while, had been busy at the supper-table,
pouring out his own tea and gulping it down with no more sense of its
exquisiteness than if it were a decoction of catnip; helping himself
to pieces of dipt toast on the flat of his knife blade, and dropping
half of it on the table-cloth; using the same serviceable implement
to cut slice after slice of ham; perpetrating terrible enormities
with the butter-plate; and in all other respects behaving less like a
civilized Christian than the worst kind of an ogre. Being by this
time fully gorged, he crowned his amiable exploits with a draught
from the water pitcher, and then favored us with his opinion about
the business in hand. And, certainly, though they proceeded out of
an unwiped mouth, his expressions did him honor.
"Give the girl a hot cup of tea and a thick slice of this first-rate
bacon," said Silas, like a sensible man as he was. "That's what she
wants. Let her stay with us as long as she likes, and help in the
kitchen, and take the cow-breath at milking time; and, in a week or
two, she'll begin to look like a creature of this world."
So we sat down again to supper, and Priscilla along with us.
V. UNTIL BEDTIME
Silas Foster, by the time we concluded our meal, had stript off his
coat, and planted himself on a low chair by the kitchen fire, with a
lapstone, a hammer, a piece of sole leather, and some waxed-ends, in
order to cobble an old pair of cowhide boots; he being, in his own
phrase, "something of a dab" (whatever degree of skill that may
imply) at the shoemaking business. We heard the tap of his hammer at
intervals for the rest of the evening. The remainder of the party
adjourned to the sitting-room. Good Mrs. Foster took her
knitting-work, and soon fell fast asleep, still keeping her needles
in brisk movement, and, to the best of my observation, absolutely
footing a stocking out of the texture of a dream. And a very
substantial stocking it seemed to be. One of the two handmaidens
hemmed a towel, and the other appeared to be making a ruffle, for her
Sunday's wear, out of a little bit of embroidered muslin which
Zenobia had probably given her.
It was curious to observe how trustingly, and yet how timidly, our
poor Priscilla betook herself into the shadow of Zenobia's protection.
She sat beside her on a stool, looking up every now and then with
an expression of humble delight at her new friend's beauty. A
brilliant woman is often an object of the devoted admiration--it
might almost be termed worship, or idolatry--of some young girl, who
perhaps beholds the cynosure only at an awful distance, and has as
little hope of personal intercourse as of climbing among the stars of
heaven. We men are too gross to comprehend it. Even a woman, of
mature age, despises or laughs at such a passion. There occurred to
me no mode of accounting for Priscilla's behavior, except by
supposing that she had read some of Zenobia's stories (as such
literature goes everywhere), or her tracts in defence of the sex, and
had come hither with the one purpose of being her slave. There is
nothing parallel to this, I believe,--nothing so foolishly
disinterested, and hardly anything so beautiful,--in the masculine
nature, at whatever epoch of life; or, if there be, a fine and rare
development of character might reasonably be looked for from the
youth who should prove himself capable of such self-forgetful
Zenobia happening to change her seat, I took the opportunity, in an
undertone, to suggest some such notion as the above.
"Since you see the young woman in so poetical a light," replied she
in the same tone, "you had better turn the affair into a ballad. It
grand subject, and worthy of supernatural machinery. The storm, the
startling knock at the door, the entrance of the sable knight
Hollingsworth and this shadowy snow-maiden, who, precisely at the
stroke of midnight, shall melt away at my feet in a pool of ice-cold
water and give me my death with a pair of wet slippers! And when the
verses are written, and polished quite to your mind, I will favor you
with my idea as to what the girl really is."
"Pray let me have it now," said I; "it shall be woven into the ballad."
"She is neither more nor less," answered Zenobia, "than a seamstress
from the city; and she has probably no more transcendental purpose
than to do my miscellaneous sewing, for I suppose she will hardly
expect to make my dresses."
"How can you decide upon her so easily?" I inquired.
"Oh, we women judge one another by tokens that escape the obtuseness
of masculine perceptions!" said Zenobia. "There is no proof which
you would be likely to appreciate, except the needle marks on the tip
of her forefinger. Then, my supposition perfectly accounts for her
paleness, her nervousness, and her wretched fragility. Poor thing!
She has been stifled with the heat of a salamander stove, in a small,
close room, and has drunk coffee, and fed upon doughnuts, raisins,
candy, and all such trash, till she is scarcely half alive; and so,
as she has hardly any physique, a poet like Mr. Miles Coverdale may
be allowed to think her spiritual."
"Look at her now!" whispered I.
Priscilla was gazing towards us with an inexpressible sorrow in her
wan face and great tears running down her cheeks. It was difficult
to resist the impression that, cautiously as we had lowered our
voices, she must have overheard and been wounded by Zenobia's
scornful estimate of her character and purposes.
"What ears the girl must have!" whispered Zenobia, with a look of
vexation, partly comic and partly real. "I will confess to you that
I cannot quite make her out. However, I am positively not an
ill-natured person, unless when very grievously provoked,--and as you,
and especially Mr. Hollingsworth, take so much interest in this odd
creature, and as she knocks with a very slight tap against my own
heart likewise,--why, I mean to let her in. From this moment I will
be reasonably kind to her. There is no pleasure in tormenting a
person of one's own sex, even if she do favor one with a little more
love than one can conveniently dispose of; and that, let me say, Mr.
Coverdale, is the most troublesome offence you can offer to a woman."
"Thank you," said I, smiling; "I don't mean to be guilty of it."
She went towards Priscilla, took her hand, and passed her own rosy
finger-tips, with a pretty, caressing movement, over the girl's hair.
The touch had a magical effect. So vivid a look of joy flushed up
beneath those fingers, that it seemed as if the sad and wan Priscilla
had been snatched away, and another kind of creature substituted in
her place. This one caress, bestowed voluntarily by Zenobia, was
evidently received as a pledge of all that the stranger sought from
her, whatever the unuttered boon might be. From that instant, too,
she melted in quietly amongst us, and was no longer a foreign element.
Though always an object of peculiar interest, a riddle, and a theme
of frequent discussion, her tenure at Blithedale was thenceforth
fixed. We no more thought of questioning it, than if Priscilla had
been recognized as a domestic sprite, who had haunted the rustic
fireside of old, before we had ever been warmed by its blaze.
She now produced, out of a work-bag that she had with her, some
little wooden instruments (what they are called I never knew), and
proceeded to knit, or net, an article which ultimately took the shape
of a silk purse. As the work went on, I remembered to have seen just
such purses before; indeed, I was the possessor of one. Their
peculiar excellence, besides the great delicacy and beauty of the
manufacture, lay in the almost impossibility that any uninitiated
person should discover the aperture; although, to a practised touch,
they would open as wide as charity or prodigality might wish. I
wondered if it were not a symbol of Priscilla's own mystery.
Notwithstanding the new confidence with which Zenobia had inspired
her, our guest showed herself disquieted by the storm. When the
strong puffs of wind spattered the snow against the windows and made
the oaken frame of the farmhouse creak, she looked at us
apprehensively, as if to inquire whether these tempestuous outbreaks
did not betoken some unusual mischief in the shrieking blast. She
had been bred up, no doubt, in some close nook, some inauspiciously
sheltered court of the city, where the uttermost rage of a tempest,
though it might scatter down the slates of the roof into the bricked
area, could not shake the casement of her little room. The sense of
vast, undefined space, pressing from the outside against the black
panes of our uncurtained windows, was fearful to the poor girl,
heretofore accustomed to the narrowness of human limits, with the
lamps of neighboring tenements glimmering across the street. The
house probably seemed to her adrift on the great ocean of the night.
A little parallelogram of sky was all that she had hitherto known of
nature, so that she felt the awfulness that really exists in its
limitless extent. Once, while the blast was bellowing, she caught
hold of Zenobia's robe, with precisely the air of one who hears her
own name spoken at a distance, but is unutterably reluctant to obey
We spent rather an incommunicative evening. Hollingsworth hardly
said a word, unless when repeatedly and pertinaciously addressed.
Then, indeed, he would glare upon us from the thick shrubbery of his
meditations like a tiger out of a jungle, make the briefest reply
possible, and betake himself back into the solitude of his heart and
mind. The poor fellow had contracted this ungracious habit from the
intensity with which he contemplated his own ideas, and the
infrequent sympathy which they met with from his auditors,--a
circumstance that seemed only to strengthen the implicit confidence
that he awarded to them. His heart, I imagine, was never really
interested in our socialist scheme, but was forever busy with his
strange, and, as most people thought it, impracticable plan, for the
reformation of criminals through an appeal to their higher instincts.
Much as I liked Hollingsworth, it cost me many a groan to tolerate
him on this point. He ought to have commenced his investigation of
the subject by perpetrating some huge sin in his proper person, and
examining the condition of his higher instincts afterwards.
The rest of us formed ourselves into a committee for providing our
infant community with an appropriate name,--a matter of greatly more
difficulty than the uninitiated reader would suppose. Blithedale was
neither good nor bad. We should have resumed the old Indian name of
the premises, had it possessed the oil-and-honey flow which the
aborigines were so often happy in communicating to their local
appellations; but it chanced to be a harsh, ill-connected, and
interminable word, which seemed to fill the mouth with a mixture of
very stiff clay and very crumbly pebbles. Zenobia suggested "Sunny
Glimpse," as expressive of a vista into a better system of society.
This we turned over and over for a while, acknowledging its
prettiness, but concluded it to be rather too fine and sentimental a
name (a fault inevitable by literary ladies in such attempts) for
sunburnt men to work under. I ventured to whisper "Utopia," which,
however, was unanimously scouted down, and the proposer very harshly
maltreated, as if he had intended a latent satire. Some were for
calling our institution "The Oasis," in view of its being the one
green spot in the moral sand-waste of the world; but others insisted
on a proviso for reconsidering the matter at a twelvemonths' end,
when a final decision might be had, whether to name it "The Oasis" or
"Sahara." So, at last, finding it impracticable to hammer out
anything better, we resolved that the spot should still be Blithedale,
as being of good augury enough.
The evening wore on, and the outer solitude looked in upon us through
the windows, gloomy, wild, and vague, like another state of existence,
close beside the little sphere of warmth and light in which we were
the prattlers and bustlers of a moment. By and by the door was
opened by Silas Foster, with a cotton handkerchief about his head,
and a tallow candle in his hand.
"Take my advice, brother farmers," said he, with a great, broad,
bottomless yawn, "and get to bed as soon as you can. I shall sound
the horn at daybreak; and we've got the cattle to fodder, and nine
cows to milk, and a dozen other things to do, before breakfast."
Thus ended the first evening at Blithedale. I went shivering to my
fireless chamber, with the miserable consciousness (which had been
growing upon me for several hours past) that I had caught a
tremendous cold, and should probably awaken, at the blast of the horn,
a fit subject for a hospital. The night proved a feverish one.
During the greater part of it, I was in that vilest of states when a
fixed idea remains in the mind, like the nail in Sisera's brain,
while innumerable other ideas go and come, and flutter to and fro,
combining constant transition with intolerable sameness. Had I made
a record of that night's half-waking dreams, it is my belief that it
would have anticipated several of the chief incidents of this
narrative, including a dim shadow of its catastrophe. Starting up in
bed at length, I saw that the storm was past, and the moon was
shining on the snowy landscape, which looked like a lifeless copy of
the world in marble.
From the bank of the distant river, which was shimmering in the
moonlight, came the black shadow of the only cloud in heaven, driven
swiftly by the wind, and passing over meadow and hillock, vanishing
amid tufts of leafless trees, but reappearing on the hither side,
until it swept across our doorstep.
How cold an Arcadia was this!
VI. COVERDALE'S SICK-CHAMBER
The horn sounded at daybreak, as Silas Foster had forewarned us,
harsh, uproarious, inexorably drawn out, and as sleep-dispelling as
if this hard-hearted old yeoman had got hold of the trump of doom.
On all sides I could hear the creaking of the bedsteads, as the
brethren of Blithedale started from slumber, and thrust themselves
into their habiliments, all awry, no doubt, in their haste to begin
the reformation of the world. Zenobia put her head into the entry,
and besought Silas Foster to cease his clamor, and to be kind enough
to leave an armful of firewood and a pail of water at her chamber
door. Of the whole household,--unless, indeed, it were Priscilla,
for whose habits, in this particular, I cannot vouch,--of all our
apostolic society, whose mission was to bless mankind, Hollingsworth,
I apprehend, was the only one who began the enterprise with prayer.
My sleeping-room being but thinly partitioned from his, the solemn
murmur of his voice made its way to my ears, compelling me to be an
auditor of his awful privacy with the Creator. It affected me with a
deep reverence for Hollingsworth, which no familiarity then existing,
or that afterwards grew more intimate between us,--no, nor my
subsequent perception of his own great errors,--ever quite effaced.
It is so rare, in these times, to meet with a man of prayerful habits
(except, of course, in the pulpit), that such an one is decidedly
marked out by the light of transfiguration, shed upon him in the
divine interview from which he passes into his daily life.
As for me, I lay abed; and if I said my prayers, it was backward,
cursing my day as bitterly as patient Job himself. The truth was,
the hot-house warmth of a town residence, and the luxurious life in
which I indulged myself, had taken much of the pith out of my
physical system; and the wintry blast of the preceding day, together
with the general chill of our airy old farmhouse, had got fairly into
my heart and the marrow of my bones. In this predicament, I
seriously wished--selfish as it may appear--that the reformation of
society had been postponed about half a century, or, at all events,
to such a date as should have put my intermeddling with it entirely
out of the question.
What, in the name of common-sense, had I to do with any better
society than I had always lived in? It had satisfied me well enough.
My pleasant bachelor-parlor, sunny and shadowy, curtained and
carpeted, with the bedchamber adjoining; my centre-table, strewn with
books and periodicals; my writing-desk with a half-finished poem, in
a stanza of my own contrivance; my morning lounge at the reading-room
or picture gallery; my
noontide walk along the cheery pavement, with the suggestive
succession of human faces, and the brisk throb of human life in which
I shared; my dinner at the Albion, where I had a hundred dishes at
command, and could banquet as delicately as the wizard Michael Scott
when the Devil fed him from the king of France's kitchen; my evening
at the billiard club, the concert, the theatre, or at somebody's
party, if I pleased,--what could be better than all this? Was it
better to hoe, to mow, to toil and moil amidst the accumulations of a
barnyard; to be the chambermaid of two yoke of oxen and a dozen cows;
to eat salt beef, and earn it with the sweat of my brow, and thereby
take the tough morsel out of some wretch's mouth, into whose vocation
I had thrust myself? Above all, was it better to have a fever and
die blaspheming, as I was like to do?
In this wretched plight, with a furnace in my heart and another in my
head, by the heat of which I was kept constantly at the boiling point,
yet shivering at the bare idea of extruding so much as a finger into
the icy atmosphere of the room, I kept my bed until breakfast-time,
when Hollingsworth knocked at the door, and entered.
"Well, Coverdale," cried he, "you bid fair to make an admirable
farmer! Don't you mean to get up to-day?"
"Neither to-day nor to-morrow," said I hopelessly. "I doubt if I
ever rise again!"
"What is the matter now?" he asked.
I told him my piteous case, and besought him to send me back to town
in a close carriage.
"No, no!" said Hollingsworth with kindly seriousness. "If you are
really sick, we must take care of you."
Accordingly he built a fire in my chamber, and, having little else to
do while the snow lay on the ground, established himself as my nurse.
A doctor was sent for, who, being homaeopathic, gave me as much
medicine, in the course of a fortnight's attendance, as would have
laid on the point of a needle. They fed me on water-gruel, and I
speedily became a skeleton above ground. But, after all, I have many
precious recollections connected with that fit of sickness.
Hollingsworth's more than brotherly attendance gave me inexpressible
comfort. Most men--and certainly I could not always claim to be one
of the exceptions--have a natural indifference, if not an absolutely
hostile feeling, towards those whom disease, or weakness, or calamity
of any kind causes to falter and faint amid the rude jostle of our
selfish existence. The education of Christianity, it is true, the
sympathy of a like
experience and the example of women, may soften and, possibly,
subvert this ugly characteristic of our sex; but it is originally
there, and has likewise its analogy in the practice of our brute
brethren, who hunt the sick or disabled member of the herd from among
them, as an enemy. It is for this reason that the stricken deer goes
apart, and the sick lion grimly withdraws himself into his den.
Except in love, or the attachments of kindred, or other very long and
habitual affection, we really have no tenderness. But there was
something of the woman moulded into the great, stalwart frame of
Hollingsworth; nor was he ashamed of it, as men often are of what is
best in them, nor seemed ever to know that there was such a soft
place in his heart. I knew it well, however, at that time, although
afterwards it came nigh to be forgotten. Methought there could not
be two such men alive as Hollingsworth. There never was any blaze of
a fireside that warmed and cheered me, in the down-sinkings and
shiverings of my spirit, so effectually as did the light out of those
eyes, which lay so deep and dark under his shaggy brows.
Happy the man that has such a friend beside him when he comes to die!
and unless a friend like Hollingsworth be at hand,--as most probably
there will not,--he had better make up his mind to die alone. How
many men, I wonder, does one meet with in a lifetime, whom he would
choose for his deathbed companions! At the crisis of my fever I
besought Hollingsworth to let nobody else enter the room, but
continually to make me sensible of his own presence by a grasp of the
hand, a word, a prayer, if he thought good to utter it; and that then
he should be the witness how courageously I would encounter the worst.
It still impresses me as almost a matter of regret that I did not
die then, when I had tolerably made up my mind to it; for
Hollingsworth would have gone with me to the hither verge of life,
and have sent his friendly and hopeful accents far over on the other
side, while I should be treading the unknown path. Now, were I to
send for him, he would hardly come to my bedside, nor should I depart
the easier for his presence.
"You are not going to die, this time," said he, gravely smiling.
"You know nothing about sickness, and think your case a great deal
more desperate than it is."
"Death should take me while I am in the mood," replied I, with a
little of my customary levity.
"Have you nothing to do in life," asked Hollingsworth, "that you
fancy yourself so ready to leave it?"
"Nothing," answered I; "nothing that I know of, unless to make pretty
verses, and play a part, with Zenobia and the rest of the amateurs,
in our pastoral. It seems but an unsubstantial sort of business, as
viewed through a mist of fever. But, dear Hollingsworth, your own
vocation is evidently to be a priest, and to spend your days and
nights in helping your fellow creatures to draw peaceful dying
"And by which of my qualities," inquired he, "can you suppose me
fitted for this awful ministry?"
"By your tenderness," I said. "It seems to me the reflection of
God's own love."
"And you call me tender!" repeated Hollingsworth thoughtfully. "I
should rather say that the most marked trait in my character is an
inflexible severity of purpose. Mortal man has no right to be so
inflexible as it is my nature and necessity to be."
"I do not believe it," I replied.
But, in due time, I remembered what he said.
Probably, as Hollingsworth suggested, my disorder was never so
serious as, in my ignorance of such matters, I was inclined to
consider it. After so much tragical preparation, it was positively
rather mortifying to find myself on the mending hand.
All the other members of the Community showed me kindness, according
to the full measure of their capacity. Zenobia brought me my gruel
every day, made by her own hands (not very skilfully, if the truth
must be told), and, whenever I seemed inclined to converse, would sit
by my bedside, and talk with so much vivacity as to add several
gratuitous throbs to my pulse. Her poor little stories and tracts
never half did justice to her intellect. It was only the lack of a
fitter avenue that drove her to seek development in literature. She
was made (among a thousand other things that she might have been) for
a stump oratress. I recognized no severe culture in Zenobia; her
mind was full of weeds. It startled me sometimes, in my state of
moral as well as bodily faint-heartedness, to observe the hardihood
of her philosophy. She made no scruple of oversetting all human
institutions, and scattering them as with a breeze from her fan. A
female reformer, in her attacks upon society, has an instinctive
sense of where the life lies, and is inclined to aim directly at that
spot. Especially the relation between the sexes is naturally among
the earliest to attract her notice.
Zenobia was truly a magnificent woman. The homely simplicity of her
dress could not conceal, nor scarcely diminish, the queenliness of
her presence. The image of her form and face should have been
multiplied all over the earth. It was wronging the rest of mankind
to retain her as the spectacle of only a few. The stage would have
been her proper sphere. She should have made it a point of duty,
moreover, to sit endlessly to painters and sculptors, and preferably
to the latter; because the cold decorum of the marble would consist
with the utmost scantiness of drapery, so that the eye might chastely
be gladdened with her material perfection in its entireness. I know
not well how to express that the native glow of coloring in her
cheeks, and even the flesh-warmth over her round arms, and what was
visible of her full bust,--in a word, her womanliness incarnated,--
compelled me sometimes to close my eyes, as if it were not quite
the privilege of modesty to gaze at her. Illness and exhaustion, no
doubt, had made me morbidly sensitive.
I noticed--and wondered how Zenobia contrived it--that she had always
a new flower in her hair. And still it was a hot-house flower,--an
outlandish flower,--a flower of the tropics, such as appeared to have
sprung passionately out of a soil the very weeds of which would be
fervid and spicy. Unlike as was the flower of each successive day to
the preceding one, it yet so assimilated its richness to the rich
beauty of the woman, that I thought it the only flower fit to be worn;
so fit, indeed, that Nature had evidently created this floral gem,
in a happy exuberance, for the one purpose of worthily adorning
Zenobia's head. It might be that my feverish fantasies clustered
themselves about this peculiarity, and caused it to look more
gorgeous and wonderful than if beheld with temperate eyes. In the
height of my illness, as I well recollect, I went so far as to
pronounce it preternatural.
"Zenobia is an enchantress!" whispered I once to Hollingsworth. "She
is a sister of the Veiled Lady. That flower in her hair is a
talisman. If you were to snatch it away, she would vanish, or be
transformed into something else."
"What does he say?" asked Zenobia.
"Nothing that has an atom of sense in it," answered Hollingsworth.
"He is a little beside himself, I believe, and talks about your being
a witch, and of some magical property in the flower that you wear in
"It is an idea worthy of a feverish poet," said she, laughing rather
compassionately, and taking out the flower. "I scorn to owe anything
to magic. Here, Mr. Hollingsworth, you may keep the spell while it
has any virtue in it; but I cannot promise you not to appear with a
new one to-morrow. It is the one relic of my more brilliant, my
The most curious part of the matter was that, long after my slight
delirium had passed away,--as long, indeed, as I continued to know
this remarkable woman,--her daily flower affected my imagination,
though more slightly, yet in very much the same way. The reason must
have been that, whether intentionally on her part or not, this
favorite ornament was actually a subtile expression of Zenobia's
One subject, about which--very impertinently, moreover--I perplexed
myself with a great many conjectures, was, whether Zenobia had ever
been married. The idea, it must be understood, was unauthorized by
any circumstance or suggestion that had made its way to my ears. So
young as I beheld her, and the freshest and rosiest woman of a
thousand, there was certainly no need of imputing to her a destiny
already accomplished; the probability was far greater that her coming
years had all life's richest gifts to bring. If the great event of a
woman's existence had been consummated, the world knew nothing of it,
although the world seemed to know Zenobia well. It was a ridiculous
piece of romance, undoubtedly, to imagine that this beautiful
personage, wealthy as she was, and holding a position that might
fairly enough be called distinguished, could have given herself away
so privately, but that some whisper and suspicion, and by degrees a
full understanding of the fact, would eventually be blown abroad.
But then, as I failed not to consider, her original home was at a
distance of many hundred miles. Rumors might fill the social
atmosphere, or might once have filled it, there, which would travel
but slowly, against the wind, towards our Northeastern metropolis,
and perhaps melt into thin air before reaching it.
There was not--and I distinctly repeat it--the slightest foundation
in my knowledge for any surmise of the kind. But there is a species
of intuition,--either a spiritual lie or the subtile recognition of a
fact,--which comes to us in a reduced state of the corporeal system.
The soul gets the better of the body, after wasting illness, or when
a vegetable diet may have mingled too much ether in the blood.
Vapors then rise up to the brain, and take shapes that often image
falsehood, but sometimes truth. The spheres of our companions have,
at such periods, a vastly greater influence upon our own than when
robust health gives us a repellent and self-defensive energy.
Zenobia's sphere, I imagine, impressed itself powerfully on mine, and
transformed me, during this period of my weakness, into something
like a mesmerical clairvoyant.
Then, also, as anybody could observe, the freedom of her deportment
(though, to some tastes, it might commend itself as the utmost
perfection of manner in a youthful widow or a blooming matron) was
not exactly maiden-like. What girl had ever laughed as Zenobia did?
What girl had ever spoken in her mellow tones? Her unconstrained and
inevitable manifestation, I said often to myself, was that of a woman
to whom wedlock had thrown wide the gates of mystery. Yet sometimes
I strove to be ashamed of these conjectures. I acknowledged it as a
masculine grossness--a sin of wicked interpretation, of which man is
often guilty towards the other sex--thus to mistake the sweet,
liberal, but womanly frankness of a noble and generous disposition.
Still, it was of no avail to reason with myself nor to upbraid myself.
Pertinaciously the thought, "Zenobia is a wife; Zenobia has lived
and loved! There is no folded petal, no latent dewdrop, in this
perfectly developed rose!"--irresistibly that thought drove out all
other conclusions, as often as my mind reverted to the subject.
Zenobia was conscious of my observation, though not, I presume, of
the point to which it led me.
"Mr. Coverdale," said she one day, as she saw me watching her, while
she arranged my gruel on the table, "I have been exposed to a great
deal of eye-shot in the few years of my mixing in the world, but
never, I think, to precisely such glances as you are in the habit of
favoring me with. I seem to interest you very much; and yet--or else
a woman's instinct is for once deceived--I cannot reckon you as an
admirer. What are you seeking to discover in me?"
"The mystery of your life," answered I, surprised into the truth by
the unexpectedness of her attack. "And you will never tell me."
She bent her head towards me, and let me look into her eyes, as if
challenging me to drop a plummet-line down into the depths of her
"I see nothing now," said I, closing my own eyes, "unless it be the
face of a sprite laughing at me from the bottom of a deep well."
A bachelor always feels himself defrauded, when he knows or suspects
that any woman of his acquaintance has given herself away. Otherwise,
the matter could have been no concern of mine. It was purely
speculative, for I should not, under any circumstances, have fallen
in love with Zenobia. The riddle made me so nervous, however, in my
sensitive condition of mind and body, that I most ungratefully began
to wish that she would let me alone. Then, too, her gruel was very
wretched stuff, with almost invariably the smell of pine smoke upon
it, like the evil taste that is said to mix itself up with a witch's
best concocted dainties. Why could not she have allowed one of the
other women to take the gruel in charge? Whatever else might be her
gifts, Nature certainly never intended Zenobia for a cook. Or, if so,
she should have meddled only with the richest and spiciest dishes,
and such as are to be tasted at banquets, between draughts of
VII. THE CONVALESCENT
As soon as my incommodities allowed me to think of past occurrences,
I failed not to inquire what had become of the odd little guest whom
Hollingsworth had been the medium of introducing among us. It now
appeared that poor Priscilla had not so literally fallen out of the
clouds, as we were at first inclined to suppose. A letter, which
should have introduced her, had since been received from one of the
city missionaries, containing a certificate of character and an
allusion to circumstances which, in the writer's judgment, made it
especially desirable that she should find shelter in our Community.
There was a hint, not very intelligible, implying either that
Priscilla had recently escaped from some particular peril or
irksomeness of position, or else
that she was still liable to this danger or difficulty, whatever it
might be. We should ill have deserved the reputation of a benevolent
fraternity, had we hesitated to entertain a petitioner in such need,
and so strongly recommended to our kindness; not to mention, moreover,
that the strange maiden had set herself diligently to work, and was
doing good service with her needle. But a slight mist of uncertainty
still floated about Priscilla, and kept her, as yet, from taking a
very decided place among creatures of flesh and blood.
The mysterious attraction, which, from her first entrance on our
scene, she evinced for Zenobia, had lost nothing of its force. I
often heard her footsteps, soft and low, accompanying the light but
decided tread of the latter up the staircase, stealing along the
passage-way by her new friend's side, and pausing while Zenobia
entered my chamber. Occasionally Zenobia would be a little annoyed
by Priscilla's too close attendance. In an authoritative and not
very kindly tone, she would advise her to breathe the pleasant air in
a walk, or to go with her work into the barn, holding out half a
promise to come and sit on the hay with her, when at leisure.
Evidently, Priscilla found but scanty requital for her love.
Hollingsworth was likewise a great favorite with her. For several
minutes together sometimes, while my auditory nerves retained the
susceptibility of delicate health, I used to hear a low, pleasant
murmur ascending from the room below; and at last ascertained it to
be Priscilla's voice, babbling like a little brook to Hollingsworth.
She talked more largely and freely with him than with Zenobia,
towards whom, indeed, her feelings seemed not so much to be
confidence as involuntary affection. I should have thought all the
better of my own qualities had Priscilla marked me out for the third
place in her regards. But, though she appeared to like me tolerably
well, I could never flatter myself with being distinguished by her as
Hollingsworth and Zenobia were.
One forenoon, during my convalescence, there came a gentle tap at my
chamber door. I immediately said, "Come in, Priscilla!" with an
acute sense of the applicant's identity. Nor was I deceived. It was
really Priscilla,--a pale, large-eyed little woman (for she had gone
far enough into her teens to be, at least, on the outer limit of
girlhood), but much less wan than at my previous view of her, and far
better conditioned both as to health and spirits. As I first saw her,
she had reminded me of plants that one sometimes observes doing
their best to vegetate among the bricks of an enclosed court, where
there is scanty soil and never any sunshine. At present, though with
no approach to bloom, there were indications that the girl had human
blood in her veins.
Priscilla came softly to my bedside, and held out an article of
snow-white linen, very carefully and smoothly ironed. She did not
seem bashful, nor anywise embarrassed. My weakly condition, I
suppose, supplied a medium in which she could approach me.
"Do not you need this?" asked she. "I have made it for you." It was
"My dear Priscilla," said I, smiling, "I never had on a nightcap in
my life! But perhaps it will be better for me to wear one, now that
I am a miserable invalid. How admirably you have done it! No, no; I
never can think of wearing such an exquisitely wrought nightcap as
this, unless it be in the daytime, when I sit up to receive company."
"It is for use, not beauty," answered Priscilla. "I could have
embroidered it and made it much prettier, if I pleased."
While holding up the nightcap and admiring the fine needlework, I
perceived that Priscilla had a sealed letter which she was waiting
for me to take. It had arrived from the village post-office that
morning. As I did not immediately offer to receive the letter, she
drew it back, and held it against her bosom, with both hands clasped
over it, in a way that had probably grown habitual to her. Now, on
turning my eyes from the nightcap to Priscilla, it forcibly struck me
that her air, though not her figure, and the expression of her face,
but not its features, had a resemblance to what I had often seen in a
friend of mine, one of the most gifted women of the age. I cannot
describe it. The points easiest to convey to the reader were a
certain curve of the shoulders and a partial closing of the eyes,
which seemed to look more penetratingly into my own eyes, through the
narrowed apertures, than if they had been open at full width. It was
a singular anomaly of likeness coexisting with perfect dissimilitude.
"Will you give me the letter, Priscilla?" said I.
She started, put the letter into my hand, and quite lost the look
that had drawn my notice.
"Priscilla," I inquired, "did you ever see Miss Margaret Fuller?"
"No," she answered.
"Because," said I, "you reminded me of her just now,--and it happens,
strangely enough, that this very letter is from her."
Priscilla, for whatever reason, looked very much discomposed.
"I wish people would not fancy such odd things in me!" she said
rather petulantly. "How could I possibly make myself resemble this
lady merely by holding her letter in my hand?"
"Certainly, Priscilla, it would puzzle me to explain it," I replied;
"nor do I suppose that the letter had anything to do with it. It was
just a coincidence, nothing more."
She hastened out of the room, and this was the last that I saw of
Priscilla until I ceased to be an invalid.
Being much alone during my recovery, I read interminably in Mr.
Emerson's Essays, "The Dial," Carlyle's works, George Sand's romances
(lent me by Zenobia), and other books which one or another of the
brethren or sisterhood had brought with them. Agreeing in little
else, most of these utterances were like the cry of some solitary
sentinel, whose station was on the outposts of the advance guard of
human progression; or sometimes the voice came sadly from among the
shattered ruins of the past, but yet had a hopeful echo in the future.
They were well adapted (better, at least, than any other
intellectual products, the volatile essence of which had heretofore
tinctured a printed page) to pilgrims like ourselves, whose present
bivouac was considerably further into the waste of chaos than any
mortal army of crusaders had ever marched before. Fourier's works,
also, in a series of horribly tedious volumes, attracted a good deal
of my attention, from the analogy which I could not but recognize
between his system and our own. There was far less resemblance, it
is true, than the world chose to imagine, inasmuch as the two
theories differed, as widely as the zenith from the nadir, in their
I talked about Fourier to Hollingsworth, and translated, for his
benefit, some of the passages that chiefly impressed me.
"When, as a consequence of human improvement," said I, "the globe
shall arrive at its final perfection, the great ocean is to be
converted into a particular kind of lemonade, such as was fashionable
at Paris in Fourier's time. He calls it limonade a cedre. It is
positively a fact! Just imagine the city docks filled, every day,
with a flood tide of this delectable beverage!"
"Why did not the Frenchman make punch of it at once?" asked
Hollingsworth. "The jack-tars would be delighted to go down in ships
and do business in such an element."
I further proceeded to explain, as well as I modestly could, several
points of Fourier's system, illustrating them with here and there a
or two, and asking Hollingsworth's opinion as to the expediency of
introducing these beautiful peculiarities into our own practice.
"Let me hear no more of it!" cried he, in utter disgust. "I never
will forgive this fellow! He has committed the unpardonable sin; for
what more monstrous iniquity could the Devil himself contrive than to
choose the selfish principle,--the principle of all human wrong, the
very blackness of man's heart, the portion of ourselves which we
shudder at, and which it is the whole aim of spiritual discipline to
eradicate,--to choose it as the master workman of his system? To
seize upon and foster whatever vile, petty, sordid, filthy, bestial,
and abominable corruptions have cankered into our nature, to be the
efficient instruments of his infernal regeneration! And his
consummated Paradise, as he pictures it, would be worthy of the
agency which he counts upon for establishing it. The nauseous
"Nevertheless," remarked I, "in consideration of the promised
delights of his system,--so very proper, as they certainly are, to be
appreciated by Fourier's countrymen,--I cannot but wonder that
universal France did not adopt his theory at a moment's warning. But
is there not something very characteristic of his nation in Fourier's
manner of putting forth his views? He makes no claim to inspiration.
He has not persuaded himself--as Swedenborg did, and as any other
than a Frenchman would, with a mission of like importance to
communicate--that he speaks with
authority from above. He promulgates his system, so far as I can
perceive, entirely on his own responsibility. He has searched out
and discovered the whole counsel of the Almighty in respect to
mankind, past, present, and for exactly seventy thousand years to
come, by the mere force and cunning of his individual intellect!"
"Take the book out of my sight," said Hollingsworth with great
virulence of expression, "or, I tell you fairly, I shall fling it in
the fire! And as for Fourier, let him make a Paradise, if he can, of
Gehenna, where, as I conscientiously believe, he is floundering at
"And bellowing, I suppose," said I,--not that I felt any ill-will
towards Fourier, but merely wanted to give the finishing touch to
Hollingsworth's image, "bellowing for the least drop of his beloved
limonade a cedre!"
There is but little profit to be expected in attempting to argue with
a man who allows himself to declaim in this manner; so I dropt the
subject, and never took it up again.
But had the system at which he was so enraged combined almost any
amount of human wisdom, spiritual insight, and imaginative beauty, I
question whether Hollingsworth's mind was in a fit condition to
receive it. I began to discern that he had come among us actuated by
no real sympathy with our feelings and our hopes, but chiefly because
we were estranging ourselves from the world, with which his lonely
and exclusive object in life had already put him at odds.
Hollingsworth must have been originally endowed with a great spirit
of benevolence, deep enough and warm enough to be the source of as
much disinterested good as Providence often allows a human being the
privilege of conferring upon his fellows. This native instinct yet
lived within him. I myself had profited by it, in my necessity. It
was seen, too, in his treatment of Priscilla. Such casual
circumstances as were here involved would quicken his divine power of
sympathy, and make him seem, while their influence lasted, the
tenderest man and the truest friend on earth. But by and by you
missed the tenderness of yesterday, and grew drearily conscious that
Hollingsworth had a closer friend than ever you could be; and this
friend was the cold, spectral monster which he had himself conjured
up, and on which he was wasting all the warmth of his heart, and of
which, at last,--as these men of a mighty purpose so invariably do,--
he had grown to be the bond-slave. It was his philanthropic theory.
This was a result exceedingly sad to contemplate, considering that it
had been mainly brought about by the very ardor and exuberance of his
philanthropy. Sad, indeed, but by no means unusual: he had taught
his benevolence to pour its warm tide exclusively through one channel;
so that there was nothing to spare for other great manifestations of
love to man, nor scarcely for the nutriment of individual attachments,
unless they could minister in some way to the terrible egotism which
he mistook for an angel of God. Had Hollingsworth's education been
more enlarged, he might not so inevitably have stumbled into this
pitfall. But this identical pursuit had educated him. He knew
absolutely nothing, except in a single direction, where he had
thought so energetically, and felt to such a depth, that no doubt the
entire reason and justice of the universe appeared to be concentrated
It is my private opinion that, at this period of his life,
Hollingsworth was fast going mad; and, as with other crazy people
(among whom I include humorists of every degree), it required all the
constancy of friendship to restrain his associates from pronouncing
him an intolerable bore. Such prolonged fiddling upon one
string--such multiform presentation of one idea! His specific object
(of which he made the public more than sufficiently aware, through
the medium of lectures and pamphlets) was to obtain funds for the
construction of an edifice, with a sort of collegiate endowment. On
this foundation he purposed to devote himself and a few disciples to
the reform and mental culture of our criminal brethren. His
visionary edifice was Hollingsworth's one castle in the air; it was
the material type in which his philanthropic dream strove to embody
itself; and he made the scheme more definite, and caught hold of it
the more strongly, and kept his clutch the more pertinaciously, by
rendering it visible to the bodily eye. I have seen him, a hundred
times, with a pencil and sheet of paper, sketching the facade, the
side-view, or the rear of the structure, or planning the internal
arrangements, as lovingly as another man might plan those of the
projected home where he meant to be happy with his wife and children.
I have known him to begin a model of the building with little stones,
gathered at the brookside, whither we had gone to cool ourselves in
the sultry noon of haying-time. Unlike all other ghosts, his spirit
haunted an edifice, which, instead of being time-worn, and full of
storied love, and joy, and sorrow, had never yet come into existence.
"Dear friend," said I once to Hollingsworth, before leaving my
sick-chamber," I heartily wish that I could make your schemes my
schemes, because it would be so great a happiness to find myself
treading the same path with you. But I am afraid there is not stuff
in me stern enough for a philanthropist,--or not in this peculiar
direction,--or, at all events, not solely in this. Can you bear with
me, if such should prove to be the case?"
"I will at least wait awhile," answered Hollingsworth, gazing at me
sternly and gloomily. "But how can you be my life-long friend,
except you strive with me towards the great object of my life?"
Heaven forgive me! A horrible suspicion crept into my heart, and
stung the very core of it as with the fangs of an adder. I wondered
whether it were possible that Hollingsworth could have watched by my
bedside, with all that devoted care, only for the ulterior purpose of
making me a proselyte to his views!
VIII. A MODERN ARCADIA
May-day--I forget whether by Zenobia’s sole decree, or by the
unanimous vote of our community--had been declared a movable festival.
It was deferred until the sun should have had a reasonable time to
clear away the snowdrifts along the lee of the stone walls, and bring
out a few of the readiest wild flowers. On the forenoon of the
substituted day, after admitting some of the balmy air into my
chamber, I decided that it was nonsense and effeminacy to keep myself
a prisoner any longer. So I descended to the sitting-room, and
finding nobody there, proceeded to the barn, whence I had already
heard Zenobia's voice, and along with it a girlish laugh which was
not so certainly recognizable. Arriving at the spot, it a little
surprised me to discover that these merry outbreaks came from
The two had been a-maying together. They had found anemones in
abundance, houstonias by the handful, some columbines, a few
long-stalked violets, and a quantity of white everlasting flowers,
and had filled up their basket with the delicate spray of shrubs and
trees. None were prettier than the maple twigs, the leaf of which
looks like a scarlet bud in May, and like a plate of vegetable gold
in October. Zenobia, who showed no conscience in such matters, had
also rifled a cherry-tree of one of its blossomed boughs, and, with
all this variety of sylvan ornament, had been decking out Priscilla.
Being done with a good deal of taste, it made her look more charming
than I should have thought possible, with my recollection of the wan,
frost-nipt girl, as heretofore described. Nevertheless, among those
fragrant blossoms, and conspicuously, too, had been stuck a weed of
evil odor and ugly aspect, which, as soon as I detected it, destroyed
the effect of all the rest. There was a gleam of latent
mischief--not to call it deviltry--in Zenobia's eye, which seemed to
indicate a slightly malicious purpose in the arrangement.
As for herself, she scorned the rural buds and leaflets, and wore
nothing but her invariable flower of the tropics.
"What do you think of Priscilla now, Mr. Coverdale?" asked she,
surveying her as a child does its doll. "Is not she worth a verse or
"There is only one thing amiss," answered I. Zenobia laughed, and
flung the malignant weed away.
"Yes; she deserves some verses now," said I, "and from a better poet
than myself. She is the very picture of the New England spring;
subdued in tint and rather cool, but with a capacity of sunshine, and
bringing us a few Alpine blossoms, as earnest of something richer,
though hardly more beautiful, hereafter. The best type of her is one
of those anemones."
"What I find most singular in Priscilla, as her health improves,"
observed Zenobia, "is her wildness. Such a quiet little body as she
seemed, one would not have expected that. Why, as we strolled the
woods together, I could hardly keep her from scrambling up the trees,
like a squirrel. She has never before known what it is to live in
the free air, and so it intoxicates her as if she were sipping wine.
And she thinks it such a paradise here, and all of us, particularly
Mr. Hollingsworth and myself, such angels! It is quite ridiculous,
and provokes one's malice almost, to see a creature so happy,
especially a feminine creature."
"They are always happier than male creatures," said I.
"You must correct that opinion, Mr. Coverdale," replied Zenobia
contemptuously, "or I shall think you lack the poetic insight. Did
you ever see a happy woman in your life? Of course, I do not mean a
girl, like Priscilla and a thousand others,--for they are all alike,
while on the sunny side of experience,--but a grown woman. How can
she be happy, after discovering that fate has assigned her but one
single event, which she must contrive to make the substance of her
whole life? A man has his choice of innumerable events."
"A woman, I suppose," answered I, "by constant repetition of her one
event, may compensate for the lack of variety."
"Indeed!" said Zenobia.
While we were talking, Priscilla caught sight of Hollingsworth at a
distance, in a blue frock, and with a hoe over his shoulder,
returning from the field. She immediately set out to meet him,
running and skipping, with spirits as light as the breeze of the May
morning, but with limbs too little exercised to be quite responsive;
she clapped her hands, too, with great exuberance of gesture, as is
the custom of young girls when their electricity overcharges them.
But, all at once, midway to Hollingsworth, she paused, looked round
about her, towards the river, the road, the woods, and back towards
us, appearing to listen, as if she heard some one calling her name,
and knew not precisely in what direction.
"Have you bewitched her?" I exclaimed.
"It is no sorcery of mine," said Zenobia; "but I have seen the girl
do that identical thing once or twice before. Can you imagine what
is the matter with her?"
"No; unless," said I, "she has the gift of hearing those 'airy
tongues that syllable men's names,' which Milton tells about."
From whatever cause, Priscilla's animation seemed entirely to have
deserted her. She seated herself on a rock, and remained there until
Hollingsworth came up; and when he took her hand and led her back to
us, she rather resembled my original image of the wan and spiritless
Priscilla than the flowery May-queen of a few moments ago. These
sudden transformations, only to be accounted for by an extreme
nervous susceptibility, always continued to characterize the girl,
though with diminished frequency as her health progressively grew
I was now on my legs again. My fit of illness had been an avenue
between two existences; the low-arched and darksome doorway, through
which I crept out of a life of old conventionalisms, on my hands and
knees, as it were, and gained admittance into the freer region that
lay beyond. In this respect, it was like death. And, as with death,
too, it was good to have gone through it. No otherwise could I have
rid myself of a thousand follies, fripperies, prejudices, habits, and
other such worldly dust as inevitably settles upon the crowd along
the broad highway, giving them all one sordid aspect before noon-time,
however freshly they may have begun their pilgrimage in the dewy
morning. The very substance upon my bones had not been fit to live
with in any better, truer, or more energetic mode than that to which
I was accustomed. So it was taken off me and flung aside, like any
other worn-out or unseasonable garment; and, after shivering a little
while in my skeleton, I began to be clothed anew, and much more
satisfactorily than in my previous suit. In literal and physical
truth, I was quite another man. I had a lively sense of the
exultation with which the spirit will enter on the next stage of its
eternal progress after leaving the heavy burden of its mortality in
an early grave, with as little concern for what may become of it as
now affected me for the flesh which I had lost.
Emerging into the genial sunshine, I half fancied that the labors of
the brotherhood had already realized some of Fourier's predictions.
Their enlightened culture of the soil, and the virtues with which
they sanctified their life, had begun to produce an effect upon the
world and its climate. In my new enthusiasm, man looked strong and
stately,--and woman, oh, how beautiful!--and the earth a green garden,
blossoming with many-colored delights. Thus Nature, whose laws I
had broken in various artificial ways, comported herself towards me
as a strict but loving mother, who uses the rod upon her little boy
for his naughtiness, and then gives him a smile, a kiss, and some
pretty playthings to console the urchin for her severity.
In the interval of my seclusion, there had been a number of recruits
to our little army of saints and martyrs. They were mostly
individuals who had gone through such an experience as to disgust
them with ordinary pursuits, but who were not yet so old, nor had
suffered so deeply, as to lose their faith in the better time to come.
On comparing their minds one with another they often discovered
that this idea of a Community had been growing up, in silent and
unknown sympathy, for years. Thoughtful, strongly lined faces were
among them; sombre brows, but eyes that did not require spectacles,
unless prematurely dimmed by the student's lamplight, and hair that
seldom showed a thread of silver. Age, wedded to the past, incrusted
over with a stony layer of habits, and retaining nothing fluid in its
possibilities, would have been absurdly out of place in an enterprise
like this. Youth, too, in its early dawn, was hardly more adapted to
our purpose; for it would behold the morning radiance of its own
spirit beaming over the very same spots of withered grass and barren
sand whence most of us had seen it vanish. We had very young people
with us, it is true,--downy lads, rosy girls in their first teens,
and children of all heights above one's knee; but these had chiefly
been sent hither for education, which it was one of the objects and
methods of our institution to supply. Then we had boarders, from
town and elsewhere, who lived with us in a familiar way, sympathized
more or less in our theories, and sometimes shared in our labors.
On the whole, it was a society such as has seldom met together; nor,
perhaps, could it reasonably be expected to hold together long.
Persons of marked individuality--crooked sticks, as some of us might
be called--are not exactly the easiest to bind up into a fagot. But,
so long as our union should subsist, a man of intellect and feeling,
with a free nature in him, might have sought far and near without
finding so many points of attraction as would allure him hitherward.
We were of all creeds and opinions, and generally tolerant of all, on
every imaginable subject. Our bond, it seems to me, was not
affirmative, but negative. We had individually found one thing or
another to quarrel with in our past life, and were pretty well agreed
as to the inexpediency of lumbering along with the old system any
further. As to what should be substituted, there was much less
unanimity. We did not greatly care--at least, I never did--for the
written constitution under which our millennium had commenced. My
hope was, that, between theory and practice, a true and available
mode of life might be struck out; and that, even should we ultimately
fail, the months or years spent in the trial would not have been
wasted, either as regarded passing enjoyment, or the experience which
makes men wise.
Arcadians though we were, our costume bore no resemblance to the
beribboned doublets, silk breeches and stockings, and slippers
fastened with artificial roses, that distinguish the pastoral people
of poetry and the stage. In outward show, I humbly conceive, we
looked rather like a gang of beggars, or banditti, than either a
company of honest laboring-men, or a conclave of philosophers.
Whatever might be our points of difference, we all of us seemed to
have come to Blithedale with the one thrifty and laudable idea of
wearing out our old clothes. Such garments as had an airing,
whenever we strode afield! Coats with high collars and with no
collars, broad-skirted or swallow-tailed, and with the waist at every
point between the hip and arm-pit; pantaloons of a dozen successive
epochs, and greatly defaced at the knees by the humiliations of the
wearer before his lady-love,--in short, we were a living epitome of
defunct fashions, and the very raggedest presentment of men who had
seen better days. It was gentility in tatters. Often retaining a
scholarlike or clerical air, you might have taken us for the denizens
of Grub Street, intent on getting a comfortable livelihood by
agricultural labor; or Coleridge's projected Pantisocracy in full
experiment; or Candide and his motley associates at work in their
cabbage garden; or anything else that was miserably out at elbows,
and most clumsily patched in the rear. We might have been sworn
comrades to Falstaff's ragged regiment. Little skill as we boasted
in other points of husbandry, every mother's son of us would have
served admirably to stick up for a scarecrow. And the worst of the
matter was, that the first energetic movement essential to one
downright stroke of real labor was sure to put a finish to these poor
habiliments. So we gradually flung them all aside, and took to
honest homespun and linsey-woolsey, as preferable, on the whole, to
the plan recommended, I think, by Virgil,--"Ara nudus; sere nudus,
"--which as Silas Foster remarked, when I translated the maxim, would
be apt to astonish the women-folks.
After a reasonable training, the yeoman life throve well with us.
Our faces took the sunburn kindly; our chests gained in compass, and
our shoulders in breadth and squareness; our great brown fists looked
as if they had never been capable of kid gloves. The plough, the hoe,
the scythe, and the hay-fork grew familiar to our grasp. The oxen
responded to our voices. We could do almost as fair a day's work as
Silas Foster himself, sleep dreamlessly after it, and awake at
daybreak with only a little stiffness of the joints, which was
usually quite gone by breakfast-time.
To be sure, our next neighbors pretended to be incredulous as to our
real proficiency in the business which we had taken in hand. They
told slanderous fables about our inability to yoke our own oxen, or
to drive them afield when yoked, or to release the poor brutes from
their conjugal bond at nightfall. They had the face to say, too,
that the cows laughed at our awkwardness at milking-time, and
Back to Full Books