While working at the customhouse, surrounded by uninspiring men, the narrator finds himself unable to write. None of them, I presume, had ever read a page of my inditing, or would have cared a fig the more for me, if they had read them all; nor would it have mended the matter, in the least, had those same unprofitable pages been written with a pen like that of Burns or of Chaucer, each of whom was a Custom-House officer in his day, as well as I. With his own ghostly hand, the obscurely seen, but majestic, figure had imparted to me the scarlet symbol, and the little roll of explanatory manuscript. Salem is a port city that failed to mature into a major harbor. The somewhat dim coal-fire has an essential influence in producing the effect which I would describe.
The Puritans who first settled in Massachusetts in the 1600s founded a colony that concentrated on God's teachings and their mission to live by His word. This uncaptivating effect is perhaps due to the period of hardly accomplished revolution, and still seething turmoil, in which the story shaped itself. It also serves as an excellent essay on society during Hawthorne's times, and it allows Hawthorne to add an imaginative literary device, the romantic pretense of having discovered the manuscript of The Scarlet Letter in the Custom House. I told you this guy had issues. My fellow-officers, and the merchants and sea-captains with whom my official duties brought me into any manner of connection, viewed me in no other light, and probably knew me in no other character.
She had flourished during a period between the early days of Massachusetts and the close of the seventeenth century. On some such morning, when three or four vessels happen to have arrived at once,—usually from Africa or South America,—or to be on the verge of their departure thitherward, there is a sound of frequent feet, passing briskly up and down the granite steps. It seemed to me,—the reader may smile, but must not doubt my word,—it seemed to me, then, that I experienced a sensation not altogether physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat; and as if the letter were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron. The witch trials began when a group of young girls claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft. So let's break it down. His gifts were emphatically those of a man of business; prompt, acute, clear-minded; with an eye that saw through all perplexities, and a faculty of arrangement that made them vanish, as by the waving of an enchanter's wand. Prior to the Revolution, there is a dearth of records; the earlier documents and archives of the Custom-House having, probably, been carried off to Halifax, when all the King's officials accompanied the British army in its flight from Boston.
It was written to enlarge the tale of , since Hawthorne deemed the story too short to print by itself. It goes beyond not having time to write. When no longer called upon to speak, or listen, either of which operations cost him an evident effort, his face would briefly subside into its former not uncheerful quietude. In his port was the dignity of one who had borne his Majesty's commission, and who was therefore illuminated by a ray of the splendour that shone so dazzlingly about the throne. Here, before his own wife has greeted him, you may greet the sea-flushed ship-master, just in port, with his vessel's papers under his arm in a tarnished tin box.
As for the , his job was created by the man's father decades earlier, and he has held the position ever since. He introduced fine arts, nature study, field trips, and physical education into his schools, and he abandoned traditional forms of physical punishment. Thus, by an inevitable necessity, as a magnet attracts steel-filings, so did our man of business draw to himself the difficulties which everybody met with. There was something about it that quickened an instinctive curiosity, and made me undo the faded red tape, that tied up the package, with the sense that a treasure would here be brought to light. But it is time to quit this sketch; on which, however, I should be glad to dwell at considerably more length, because, of all men whom I have ever known, this individual was fittest to be a Custom-House officer. And, in so intense a moment, his demeanour would have still been calm.
The Custom-House: Introductory Summary: The Custom House Introductory to The Scarlet Letter A writer of story-books! In my particular case, the consolatory topics were close at hand, and, indeed, had suggested themselves to my meditations a considerable time before it was requisite to use them. Hawthorne says that the large upstairs hall was used to store documents, and it is here that he has found an unusual package. His position is then one of the most singularly irksome, and, in every contingency, disagreeable, that a wretched mortal can possibly occupy; with seldom an alternative of good, on either hand, although what presents itself to him as the worst event may very probably be the best. He possessed no power of thought, no depth of feeling, no troublesome sensibilities; nothing, in short, but a few commonplace instincts, which, aided by the cheerful temper which grew inevitably out of his physical well-being, did duty very respectably, and to general acceptance, in lieu of a heart. As a final disposition, I contemplate depositing them with the Essex Historical Society. It is a good lesson—though it may often be a hard one—for a man who has dreamed of literary fame, and of making for himself a rank among the world's dignitaries by such means, to step aside out of the narrow circle in which his claims are recognized, and to find how utterly devoid of significance, beyond that circle, is all that he achieves, and all he aims at.
The ancient Surveyor—being little molested, I suppose, at that early day, with business pertaining to his office—seems to have devoted some of his many leisure hours to researches as a local antiquarian, and other inquisitions of a similar nature. And yet, though invariably happiest elsewhere, there is within me a feeling for Old Salem, which, in lack of a better phrase, I must be content to call affection. It is with an effort that I recall the figures and appellations of these few. Pue's mental part, and the internal operations of his head, than the frizzled wig had contained of the venerable skull itself. Indeed, he cannot even remember his days of being at The Custom House, despite it being not too long ago.
It would be sad injustice, the reader must understand, to represent all my excellent old friends as in their dotage. Summary Hawthorne as narrator was granted the position of chief executive officer of the Custom House through the president's commission. But, on examining the papers which the parchment commission served to envelop, I found more traces of Mr. Not so with our old Inspector! Between February 1692 and May 1693 more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft while 20 of them were executed, before the hysteria calmed down. The merchants,—Pingree, Phillips, Shepard, Upton, Kimball, Bertram, Hunt,—these, and many other names, which had such classic familiarity for my ear six months ago,—these men of traffic, who seemed to occupy so important a position in the world,—how little time has it required to disconnect me from them all, not merely in act, but recollection! Hawthorne was a complicated guy.
A Custom House is a governmental building situated near a port or a wharf. His fellow workers mostly hold lifetime appointments secured by family connections. In this preface, Hawthorne also shares his definition of the romance novel as he attempts to imagine Hester Prynne's story beyond Pue's manuscript account. If, in our country, valour were rewarded by heraldic honour, this phrase—which it seems so easy to speak, but which only he, with such a task of danger and glory before him, has ever spoken—would be the best and fittest of all mottoes for the General's shield of arms. Suffice it here to say, that a Custom-House officer, of long continuance, can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable personage, for many reasons; one of them, the tenure by which he holds his situation, and another, the very nature of his business, which—though, I trust, an honest one—is of such a sort that he does not share in the united effort of mankind.
Nothing, if I rightly call to mind, was left of my respected predecessor, save an imperfect skeleton, and some fragments of apparel, and a wig of majestic frizzle; which, unlike the head that it once adorned, was in very satisfactory preservation. It is now nearly two centuries and a quarter since the original Briton, the earliest emigrant of my name, made his appearance in the wild and forest-bordered settlement, which has since become a city. There were flavours on his palate, that had lingered there not less than sixty or seventy years, and were still apparently as fresh as that of the mutton-chop which he had just devoured for his breakfast. It was the capital letter A. It might be true, indeed, that this was a life which could not, with impunity, be lived too long; else, it might make me permanently other than I had been, without transforming me into any shape which it would be worth my while to take.