Nathaniel Hawthorne Gets on the Train

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"Nathaniel Hawthorne Gets on the Train." Excerpt from The House of Seven Gables: A Romance (1851).[1] In Lapham's Quarterly 7.2 (Spring 2014), "Revolutions" issue, pp. 139-43.[2]

Excerpted in the hefty "Revolutions" issue of a quarterly magazine/journal, where nuances in tone are muted out of context, the selection reminds us of how revolutionary — and positive for some Romantic (Transcendental?) souls — was the appearance in the 19th c. of railroads and telegraph, the vehicles and media of the future.

From a dialog between Clifford (I assume Clifford Pyncheon)[3] and a less enthusiastic "old gentleman"; Clifford does most of the talking.

"My impression is that our wonderfully increased and still increasing facilities of locomotion are destined to bring us round again to the nomadic state. You are aware [...] that all human progress is in a circle; to to use a more accurate and beautiful figure, in an ascending spiral curve [I'd picture a single helix]. [...] The past is but a coarse and sensual prophecy of the present and the future. These railroads [...] are positively the greatest blessing that the ages have wrought for us. They give us wings; they annihilate the toil and dust of pilgrimage; they spiritualize travel! Transition being so facile, what can be any man's inducement to tarry in one spot?" [*** On to Clifford's mentioning Mesmerism — hypnosis]

"All a humbug!" growled the old gentleman."

"Then there is electricity! [...] Is that a humbug too? It is a fact [...] that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time[.] Rather, the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence! Or, shall we say it is itself a thought, nothing but thought, and no longer the substance which we deemed it!"

"If you mean the telegraph," said the old gentleman [...] it is an excellent thing — that is, of course, if the speculators in cotton and politics don't get possession of it. [...]

[After what may be an awkward moment with the old man's enthusiasm for the telegraph's utility for "the detection of bank robbers and murderers," Clifford presents more uplifting possibilities for the telegraph.] "An almost spiritual medium, like the electric telegraph should be consecrated to high, deep, joyful, and holy missions. Lovers [...] might sedn their heartthrobs from Maine to Florida with some such words as these: 'I love you forever!' [...]." (Lapham's p. 142)


RDE, finishing, 18Dec21