Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 online

. (page 16 of 16)
Online LibraryNathaniel HawthorneThe whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 → online text (page 16 of 16)
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they returned with the erect and rigid mien of disci-
plined soldiers. Some hobbled on crutches and wooden
legs ; others had received wounds, which were still
rankling in their breasts. Many, alas ! had fallen in


battle, and perhaps were left unburied on the bloody

" The country must have been sick of war," ob
served Laurence.

"One would have thought so," said Grandfather.
" Yet only two or three years elapsed before the folly
of some misguided men caused another mustering of
soldiers. This affair was called Shays's war, because
a Captain Shays was the chief leader of the insur^

" Oh Grandfather, don't let there be another war ! "
cried little Alice, piteously.

Grandfather comforted his dear little girl by assur-
ing her that there was no great mischief done. Shays's
war happened in the latter part of 1786 and the be-
ginning of the following year. Its principal cause was
the badness of times. The State of Massachusetts, in
its public capacity, was very much in debt. So like-
wise were many of the people. An insurrection took
place, the object of which seems to have been to in-
terrupt the course of law and get rid of debts and

James Bowdoin, a good and able man, was now gov-
ernor of Massachusetts. He sent General Lincoln, at
the head of four thousand men, to put down the in-
surrection. This general, who had fought through
several hard campaigns in the Revolution, managed
matters like an old soldier, and totally defeated the
rebels at the expense of very little blood.

" There is but one more public event to be recorded
in the history of our chair," proceeded Grandfather.
"In the year 1794 Samuel Adams was elected gov-
ernor of Massachusetts. I have told you what a dis-
tinguished patriot he was, and how much he resembled


the stern old Puritans. Could the ancient freemen of
Massachusetts who lived in the days of the first charter
have arisen from their graves, they would probably
have voted for Samuel Adams to be governor."

" Well, Grandfather, I hope he sat in our chair,"
3aid Clara.

" He did," replied Grandfather. " He had long
been in the habit of visiting the barber's shop, where
our venerable chair, philosophically forgetful of its
former dignities, had nov/ spent nearly eighteen not
uncomfortable years. Such a remarkable piece of
furniture, so evidently a relic of long-departed times,
could not escape the notice of Samuel Adams. He
made minute researches into its history, and ascer-
tained what a succession of excellent and famous peo-
ple had occupied it."

" How did he find it out ? " asked Charley ; '^ for I
suppose the chair could not tell its own history."

" There used to be a vast collection of ancient let-
ters and other documents in the tower of the Old
South Church," answered Grandfather. "Perhaps the
history of our chair was contained among these. At
all events, Samuel Adams appears to have been well
acquainted with it. When he became governor, he
felt that he could have no more honorable seat than
that which had been the ancient chair of state. He
therefore purchased it for a trifle, and filled it wor-
thily for three years as governor of Massachusetts."

" And v/hat next? " asked Charley.

"That is all," said Grandfather, heaving a sigh;
for he could not help being a little sad at the thought
that his stories must close here. " Samuel Adams died
in 1803, at the age of above threescore and ten. He
was a great patriot, but a poor man. At his death he


left scarcely property enough to pay the expenses of
his funeral. This precious chair, among his other
3ffects, was sold at auction ; and your Grandfather,
who was then in the strength of his years, became the

Laurence, with a mind full of thoughts that strug-
gled for expression, but could find none, looked stead-
fastly at the chair.

He had now learned all its history, yet was not sat-

" Oh, how I wish that the chair could speak ! " cried
he. '' After its long intercourse with mankind, —
after looking upon the world for ages, — what lessons
of golden wisdom it might utter ! It might teach a
private person how to lead a good and happy life, or
ii statesman how to make his country prosperous."

grandfather's dream.

Grandfather was struck by Laurence's idea that
the historic chair should utter a voice, and thus pour
forth the collected wisdom of two centuries. The old
gentleman had once possessed no inconsiderable share
of fancy ; and even now its fading sunshine occa-
sionally glimmered among his more sombre reflec-

As the history of his chair had exhausted all his
facts, Grandfather determined to have recourse to
fable. So, after warning the children that they must
not mistake this story for a true one, he related what
we shall call Grandfather's Dream.

Laurence and Clara, where were you last night?
Where were you, Charley, and dear little Alice ? You
had all gone to rest, and left old Grandfather to med-
itate alone in his great chair. The lamp had grown
so dim that its light hardly illuminated the alabaster
shade. The wood-fire had crumbled into heavy em-
bers, among which the little flames danced, and quiv-
ered, and sported about like fairies.

And here sat Grandfather all by himself. He knew
that it was bedtime ; yet he could not help longing to
hear your merry voices, or to hold a comfortable chat
with some old friend ; because then his pillow would
be visited by pleasant dreams. But, as neither chil-
dren nor friends were at hand, Grandfather leaned


back in the great cliair and closed his eyes, for the
sake of meditating more profoundly.

And, when Grandfather's meditations had grown
very profound indeed, he fancied that he heard a
sound over his head, as if somebody were preparing to

" Hem ! " it said, in a dry, husky tone. " H-e-m ■
Hem ! "

As Grrandfather did not know that any person was
in the room, he started up in great surprise, and
peeped hither and thither, behind the chair, and into
the recess by the fireside, and at the dark nook yon-
der near the bookcase. Nobody could be seen.

" Poh ! " said Grandfather to himself, " I must have
been dreaming."

But, just as he was going to resume his seat. Grand-
father happened to look at the great chair. The rays
of firelight were flickering upon it in such a manner
that it really seemed as if its oaken frame were all
alive. What ! did it not move its elbow ? There,
too ! It certainly lifted one of its ponderous fore legs,
as if it had a notion of drawing itself a little nearer to
the fire. Meanwhile the lion's head nodded at Grand-
father with as polite and sociable a look as a lion's
visage, carved in oak, could possibly be expected to
assume. Well, this is strange !

" Good evening, my old friend," said the dry and
husky voice, now a little clearer than before. " We
have been intimately acquainted so long that I think
it high time we have a chat together."

Grandfather was looking straight at the lion's head,
and could not be mistaken in supposing that it moved
its lips. So here the mystery was all explained.

" I was not aware," said Grandfather, with a civil


salutation to his oaken companion, " that you possessed
the faculty of speech. Otherwise I should often have
been glad to converse with such a solid, useful, and
substantial if not brilliant member of society."

" Oh ! " replied the ancient chair, in a quiet and
easy tone, for it had now cleared its throat of the dust
of ages, " I am naturally a silent and incommunica-
tive sort of character. Once or twice in the course of
a century I unclose my lips. When the gentle Lady
Arbella departed this life I uttered a groan. When
the honest mint-master weighed his plump daughter
against the pine-tree shillings I chuckled audibly at
the joke. When old Simon Bradstreet took the place
of the tyrant Andros I joined in the general huzza, and
capered on my wooden legs for joy. To be sure, the
by-standers were so fully occupied with their own feel-
ings that my sympathy was quite unnoticed."

" And have you often held a private chat with youi
friends ? " asked Grandfather.

" Not often," answered the chair. " I once talked
with Sir William Phips, and communicated my ideas
about the witchcraft delusion. Cotton Mather had
several conversations with me, and derived great ben-
efit from my historical reminiscences. In the days of
the Stamp Act I whispered in the ear of Hutchinson,
bidding him to remember what stock his countrymen
were descended of, and to think whether the spirit
of their forefathers had utterly departed from them.
The last man whom I favored with a colloquy was that
stout old republican, Samuel Adams."

" And how happens it," inquired Grandfather, " that
there is no record nor tradition of your conversational
abilities ? It is an uncommon thing to meet with a
chair that can talk."


" Why, to tell you the truth," said the chair, giving
itself a hitch nearer to the hearth, " I am not apt to
choose the most suitable moments for unclosing my
lips. Sometimes I have inconsiderately begun to speak,
when my occupant, lolling back in my arms, was in-
clined to take an after-dinner nap. Or perhaps the
impulse to talk may be felt at midnight, when the
lamp burns dim and the fire crumbles into decay, and
the studious or thoughtful man finds that his brain is
in a mist. Oftenest I have unwisely uttered my wis-
dom in the ears of sick persons, when the inquietude
of fever made them toss about upon my cushion. And
so it happens, that though my words make a pretty
strong impression at the moment, yet my auditors in-
variably remember them only as a dream. I should
not wonder if you, my excellent friend, were to do the
same to-morrow morning."

" Nor I either," thought Grandfather to himself.

However, he thanked this respectable old chair for
beginning the conversation, and begged to know
whether it had anything particular to communicate.

" I have been listening attentively to your narrative
of my adventures," replied the chair ; " and it must be
owned that your correctness entitles you to be held up
as a pattern to biographers. Nevertheless, there are
a few omissions which I should be glad to see supplied.
For instance, you make no mention of the good knight
Sir Richard Saltonstall, nor of the famous Hugh
Peters, nor of those old regicide judges, Whalley,
Goffe, and Dixwell. Yet I have borne the weight of
all those distinguished characters at one time or an-

Grandfather promised amendment if ever he should
have an opportunity to repeat his narrative. The good


old chair, which still seemed to retain a due regard foi
outward appearance, then reminded him how long a
time had passed since it had been provided with a new
cushion. It likewise expressed the opinion that the
oaken figures on its back would show to much better
advantage by the aid of a little varnish.

" And I have had a complaint in this joint," con-
tinued the chair, endeavoring to lift one of its legs,
" ever since Charley trundled his wheelbarrow against

" It shall be attended to," said Grandfather. " And
now, venerable chair, I have a favor to solicit. During
an existence of more than two centuries you have had
a familiar intercourse with men who were esteemed the
wisest of their day. Doubtless, with your capacious
understanding, you have treasured up many an invalu-
able lesson of wisdom. You certainly have had time
enough to guess the riddle of life. Tell us, poor mor-
tals, then, how we may be happy."

The lion's head fixed its eyes thoughtfully upon the
fixe, and the whole chair assumed an aspect of deep
meditation. Finally it beckoned to Grandfather with
its elbow, and made a step sideways towards him, as
if it had a very important secret to communicate.

" As long as I have stood in the midst of human af-
fairs," said the chair, with a very oracular enunciation,
" I have constantly observed that Justice, Teuth,
and Love are the chief ingredients of every happy

" Justice, Truth, and Love ! " exclaimed Grand-
father. " We need not exist two centuries to find
out that these qualities are essential to our happiness.
This is no secret. Every human being is born with
the instinctive knowledge of it."


" Ah ! " cried the chair, drawing back in surprise.
" From what I have observed of the dealings of man
with man, and nation with nation, I never should have
suspected that they knew this all- important secret.
And, with this eternal lesson written in your soul, do
you ask me to sift new wisdom for you out of my
petty existence of two or three centuries ? "

" But, my dear chair " — said Grandfather.

" Not a word more," interrupted the chair ; " here I
close my lips for the next hundred years. At the end
of that period, if I shall have discovered any new pre-
cepts of happiness better than what Heaven has al-
ready taught you, they shall assuredly be given to the

In the energy of its utterance the oaken chair seemed
to stamp its foot, and trod (we hope unintentionally)
upon Grandfather's toe. The old gentleman started,
and found that he had been asleep in the great chair,
and that his heavy walking-stick had fallen down
across his foot.

" Grandfather," cried little Alice, clapping her
hands, "you must dream a new dream every night
about our chair ! "

Laurence, and Clara, and Charley said the same.
But the good old gentleman shook his head, and de-
clared that here ended the history, real or fabulous, of
Grandfather's Chair.





Boston, Aug-. 30, 1765.
My dear Sir, — I came from my house at Milton,
the 26 in the morning. After dinner it was whispered
in town there would be a mob at night, and that Pax-
ton, Hallowell, the custom-house, and admiralty offi-
cers' houses would be attacked ; but my friends assured
me that the rabble were satisfied with the insult I had
received and that I was become rather popular. In
the evening, whilst I was at supper and my children
round me, somebody ran in and said the mob were
coming. I directed my children to fly to a secure
place, and shut up my house as I had done before, in-
tending not to quit it ; but my eldest daughter repented
her leaving me, hastened back, and protested she would
not quit the house unless I did. I could n't stand
against this, and withdrew with her to a neighboring
house, where I had been but a few minutes before the
hellish crew fell upon my house with the rage of devils,
and in a moment with axes split down the doors and
entered. My son being in the great entry heard them
cry : " Damn him, he is upstairs, we '11 have him."
Some ran immediately as high as the top of the house,
others filled the rooms below and cellars, and others
remained without the house to be employed there


Messages soon came one after another to the house
where I was, to inform me the mob were coming in
pursuit of me, and I was obliged to retire through
yards and gardens to a house more remote, where 1
remained until 4 o'clock, by which time one of the
best finished houses in the Province had nothing re-
naining but the bare walls and floors. Not contented
with tearing off all the wainscot and hangings, and
splitting the doors to pieces, they beat down the parti-
tion walls ; and although that alone cost them near
two hours, they cut down the cupola or lanthorn, and
they began to take the slate and boards from the roof,
and were prevented only by the approaching daylight
from a total demolition of the building. The garden-
house was laid flat, and all my trees, etc., broke down
to the ground.

Such ruin was never seen in America. Besides
my plate and family pictures, household furniture of
every kind, my own, my children's, and servants' ap-
parel, they carried off about £900 sterling in money,
and emptied the house of everything whatsoever, ex-
cept a part of the kitchen furniture, not leaving a
single book or paper in it, and have scattered or de.
stroyed all the manuscripts and other papers I had been
collecting for thirty years together, besides a great
number of public papers in my custody. The even-
ing being warm, I had undressed me and put on a
thin camlet surtout over my waistcoat. The next
morning, the weather being changed, I had not clothes
enough in my possession to defend me from the cold,
and was obliged to borrow from my friends. Many
articles of clothing and a good part of my plate have
since been picked up in different quarters of the town,
but the furniture in general was cut to pieces before


it was thrown out of the house, and most of the beds
cut open, and the feathers thrown out of the windows.
The next evening, I intended with my children to
Milton, but meeting two or three small parties of
the ruffians, who I suppose had concealed themselves
in the country, and my coachman hearing one of them
say, " There he is ! " my daughters were terrified and
said they should never be safe, and I was forced to
shelter them that night at the Castle.

The encouragers of the first mob never intended
matters should go this length, and the people in gen-
eral expressed the utter detestation of this unparalleled
outrage, and I wish they could be convinced what in-
finite hazard there is of the most terrible consequences
from such demons, when they are let loose in a govern
ment where there is not constant authority at hand
sufficient to suppress them. I am told the government
here will make me a compensation for my own and
my family's loss, which I think cannot be much less
than £3,000 sterling. I am not sure that they will.
If they should not, it will be too heavy for me, and I
must humbly apply to his majesty in whose service
I am a sufferer; but this, and a much greater sum
would be an insufficient compensation for the constant
distress and anxiety of mind I have felt for some time
past, and must feel for months to come. You cannot
conceive the wretched state we are in. Such is the
resentment of the people against the Stamp-Duty, that
there can be no dependence upon the General Court to
take any steps to enforce, or rather advise, to the pay-
ment of it. On the other hand, such will be the effects
of not submitting to it, that all trade must cease, all
courts fall, and all authority be at an end. Must not
the ministry be excessively embarrassed ? On the one


hand, it will be said, if concessions are made, the Par^
liament endanger the loss of their authority over the
Colony : on the other hand, if external forces should
be used, there seems to be danger of a total lasting
alienation of affection. Is there no alternative ? Ma^
the infinitely wise God direct you.


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Online LibraryNathaniel HawthorneThe whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 → online text (page 16 of 16)