The images in this post contrast with, yet undergird, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s creative thoughts. A neighboring graveyard is hidden, old, its stones broken, some knocked over by vandals traversing a wooded lane decades ago. Yet those buried here were upright in an older sense, contributing mightily to the making of a small community.
“Crossing Battersea Bridge, in the neighborhood of Chelsea, I remember seeing a distant gleam of the Crystal Palace, glimmering afar in the afternoon sunshine like an imaginary structure,–an air-castle by chance descended upon earth, and resting there one instant before it vanished, as we sometimes see a soap-bubble touch unharmed on the carpet,–a thing of only momentary visibility and no substance, destined to be overburdened and crushed down by the first cloud-shadow that might fall upon that spot. Even as I looked, it disappeared. Shall I attempt a picture of this exhalation of modern ingenuity? From some of the above reflections I draw the comfortable inference that, the longer and better known a thing may be, so much the more eligible is it as the subject of a descriptive sketch.”
the flash of insight must be captured in the net of words. Hawthorne’s readers had more time and inclination and were trained in savoring a piece of work, a scene, a character, a milieu; a heart or core of being: even the author’s own. his fleeting vision of the crystal palace is also the fugitive metaphor for what we might hope to accomplish in writing creative nonfiction. don’t be discouraged. millions saw this beauty and perhaps it is now in some vast heavenly museum of our earthy creativity. are our works and deeds forgotten as we so often suppose?
on the next page of OUR OLD HOME Hawthorne moves from the ephemeral to the massive, touching on his own and describing the worship of the builders of Westminster Abbey.
“the structure itself was the worship of the devout men of long ago [. . .] sung and poured out of the organ [root word with organism and organize . . .] being so grand and sweet, the Divine benevolence had willed it to be prolonged for the behoof of auditors unborn.”
Doesn’t this bring to mind for some CS Lewis’s Discarded Image –establishing the cosmos, heavens and earth; the discarded image of which he said, The crystalline heavenly “spheres of the old model present us with an object in which the mind can rest, overwhelming in its greatness but satisfying in its harmony.”
so Hawthorne sat long ago, worshiping.