Monday, December 25, 2006

Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future in "The Custom-House"

Phew, Blogger wasn't exactly in the Christmas spirit for awhile there, was it? I was shut out for the entire weekend. Just kidding, I only tried today. But I was shut out for hours.

Anyway, in honor of Dickens, I'm posting a short list of ghosts in "The Custom-House," in the order in which they appear, while the musume futari are sleeping.

1. The "figure of that first ancestor," who was "present to my boyish imagination" and "still haunts me."

2. The "ghosts of bygone meals," which appear to the Inspector of the Custom-House, "not in anger or retribution, but as if grateful for his former appreciation, and seeking to reduplicate an endless series of enjoyment, at once shadowy and sensual."

3. "The past," which "was not dead": that is, "the thoughts, that had seemed so vital and so active, yet had been put to rest so quietly, revived again," which is to say the urge to write creative fiction.

4. Surveyor Pue's ghost:

It impressed me as if the ancient Surveyor, in his garb of a hundred years gone by, and wearing his immortal wig,--which was buried with him, but did not perish in the grave,--had met me in the deserted chamber of the Custom-House.... 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. With his own ghostly voice, he had exhorted me, on the sacred consideration of my filial duty and reverence towards him,--who might reasonably regard himself as my official ancestor,--to bring his mouldy and moth-eaten lucubrations before the public. "Do this," said the ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue, emphatically nodding the head that looked so imposing within its memorable wig, "do this, and the profit shall be all your own! You will shortly need it; for it is not in your days as it was in mine, when a man's office was a life-lease, and oftentimes an heirloom. But, I charge you, in this matter of old Mistress Prynne, give to your predecessor's memory the credit which will rightfully be its due!" And I said to the ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue,--"I will!"

5. The "characters of the narrative," who "would not be warmed and rendered malleable, by any heat that I could kindle at my intellectual forge. They would take neither the glow of passion nor the tenderness of sentiment, but retained all the rigidity of dead corpses, and stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin of contemptuous defiance."

6. A "form, beloved, but gone hence," that is "now sitting quietly in a streak of magic moonshine, with an aspect that would make us doubt whether it had returned from afar, or had never once stirred from our fireside."

7. A "suspicion that one's intellect is dwindling away," something which is "any thing but agreeable to be haunted" by.

8. Hawthorne's "figurative self," that of a "politically dead man," whose "own head was the first to fall" upon the Whig electoral victory, and who was kept "careering through the public prints, in my decapitated state, like Irving's Headless Horseman, ghastly and grim, and longing to be buried."

9. The narrator of "The Custom-House," "a gentleman who writes from beyond the grave," and whose essay and romance "may be considered as the POSTHUMOUS PAPERS OF A DECAPITATED SURVEYOR."

Did I miss any?

[Update (12/28/06): D'oh! First sentence: "It is a little remarkable, that--though disinclined to talk overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fireside, and to my personal friends--an autobiographical impulse should twice in my life have taken possession of me." Let's call it number 0.]

Oh, and for your holiday gift, o ghostly reader(s), k-punk has been doing some serious ghost blogging the past few weeks, so go check out the holiday hauntology!

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