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Hawthorne on the Isles of Shoals

September 1852
Edited and published by Sophia Hawthorne (1868)

Saturday, September 4th.--Another beautiful day, rather cooler than the preceding, but not too cool. I can bear this coolness better than that of the interior. In the forenoon, I took passage for Star Island, in a boat that crosses daily whenever there are passengers. My companions were the two Yankees, who had quite recovered from yesterday's sickness, and were in the best of spirits and the utmost activity of mind of which they were capable. Never was there such a string of questions as they directed to the boatman,--questions that seemed to have no gist, so far as related to any use that could be made of the answers. They appear to be very good young men, however, well-meaning, and with manners not disagreeable, because their hearts are not amiss. Star Island is less than a mile from Appledore. It is the most populous island of the group,--has been, for three or four years, an incorporated township, and sends a representative to the New Hampshire legislature. The number of voters is variously represented as from eighteen to twenty-eight. The inhabitants are all, I presume, fishermen. Their houses stand in pretty close neighborhood to one another, scattered about without the slightest regularity or pretence of a street, there being no wheel-carriages on the island. Some of the houses are very comfortable two-story dwellings. I saw two or three, I think, with flowers. There are also one or two trees on the island. There is a strong odor of fishiness, and the little cove is full of mackerel-boats, and other small craft for fishing, in some of which little boys of no growth at all were paddling about. Nearly in the centre of this insular metropolis is a two-story house, with a flag-staff in the yard. This is the hotel.


On the highest point of Star Island stands the church,--a small, wooden structure; and, sitting in its shadow, I found a red-baize-shirted fisherman, who seemed quite willing to converse. He said that there was a minister here, who was also the schoolmaster; but that he did not keep school just now, because his wife was very much out of health. The school-house stood but a little way from the meeting-house, and near it was the minister's dwelling; and by and by I had a glimpse of the good man himself, in his suit of black, which looked in very decent condition at the distance from which I viewed it. His clerical air was quite distinguishable, and it was rather curious to see it, when everybody else wore red-baize shirts and fishing-boots, and looked of the scaly genus. He did not approach me, and I saw him no nearer. I soon grew weary of Gosport, and was glad to reëmbark, although I intend to revisit the island with Mr. Thaxter, and see more of its peculiarities and inhabitants. I saw one old witch-looking woman creeping about with a cane, and stooping down, seemingly to gather herbs. On mentioning her to Mr. Thaxter, after my return, he said that it was probably "the bearded woman." I did not observe her beard; but very likely she may have had one.

The larger part of the company at the hotel returned to the mainland to-day. There remained behind, however, a Mr. T---- from Newburyport,--a man of natural refinement, and a taste for reading that seems to point towards the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and men of that class. I have had a good deal of talk with him, and at first doubted whether he might not be a clergyman; but Mr. Thaxter tells me that he has made his own way in the world,--was once a sailor before the mast, and is now engaged in mercantile pursuits. He looks like nothing of this kind, being tall and slender, with very quiet manners, not beautiful, though pleasing from the refinement that they indicate. He has rather a precise and careful pronunciation, but yet a natural way of talking.

In the afternoon I walked round a portion of the island that I had not previously visited, and in the evening went with Mr. Titcomb to Mr. Thaxter's to drink apple-toddy. We found Mrs. Thaxter sitting in a neat little parlor, very simply furnished, but in good taste. She is not now, I believe, more than eighteen years old, very pretty, and with the manners of a lady,--not prim and precise, but with enough of freedom and case. The books on the table were "Pre-Raphaelitism," a tract on spiritual mediums, etc. There were several shelves of books on one side of the room, and engravings on the walls. Mr. Weiss was there, and I do not know but he is an inmate of Mr. Thaxter's. By and by came in Mr. Thaxter's brother, with a young lady whose position I do not know,--either a sister or the brother's wife. Anon, too, came in the apple-toddy, a very rich and spicy compound; after which we had some glees and negro melodies, in which Mr. Thaxter sang a noble bass, and Mrs. Thaxter sang like a bird, and Mr. Weiss sang, I suppose, tenor, and the brother took some other part, and all were very mirthful and jolly. At about ten o'clock Mr. Titcomb and myself took leave, and emerging into the open air, out of that room of song, and pretty youthfulness of woman, and gay young men, there was the sky, and the three-quarters waning moon, and the old sea moaning all round about the island.


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