Chapter XI.

From: Grandfather’s Chair (1841)
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published: E. P. Peabody 1841 Boston


  “SIR WILLIAM PHIPS,” continued Grandfather, “was too active and adventurous a man to sit still in the quiet enjoyment of his good fortune. In the year 1690, he went on a military expedition against the French colonies in America, conquered the whole province of Acadie, and returned to Boston with a great deal of plunder.”

  “Why, Grandfather, he was the greatest man that ever sat in the chair!” cried Charley.

  “Ask Laurence what he thinks,” replied Grandfather, with a smile. “Well; in the same year, Sir William took command of an expedition against Quebec, but did not succeed in capturing the city. In 1692, being then in London, King William the Third appointed him governor of Massachusetts. And now, my dear children, having followed Sir William Phips through all his adventures and hardships, till we find him comfortably seated in Grandfather’s chair, we will here bid him farewell. May he be as happy in ruling a people, as he was while he tended sheep!”

  Charley, whose fancy had been greatly taken by the adventurous disposition of Sir William Phips, was eager to know how he had acted, and what had happened to him while he held the office of governor. But Grandfather had made up his mind to tell no more stories for the present.

  “Possibly, one of these days, I may go on with the adventures of the chair,” said he. “But its history becomes very obscure just at this point; and I must search into some old books and manuscripts, before proceeding further. Besides, it is now a good time to pause in our narrative; because the new charter, which Sir William Phips brought over from England, formed a very important epoch in the history of the province.”

  “Really, Grandfather,” observed Laurence, “this seems to be the most remarkable chair in the world. Its history cannot be told without intertwining it with the lives of distinguished men, and the great events that have befallen the country.”

  “True, Laurence,” replied Grandfather, smiling. “We must write a book with some such title as this—MEMOIRS OF MY OWN TIMES, BY GRANDFATHER’S CHAIR.”

  “That would be beautiful!” exclaimed Laurence, clapping his hands.

  “But, after all,” continued Grandfather, “any other old chair, if it possessed memory, and a hand to write its recollections, could record stranger stories than any that I have told you. From generation to generation, a chair sits familiarly in the midst of human interests, and is witness to the most secret and confidential intercourse, that mortal man can hold with his fellow. The human heart may best be read in the fireside chair. And as to external events, Grief and Joy keep a continual vicissitude around it and within it. Now we see the glad face and glowing form of Joy, sitting merrily on the old chair, and throwing a warm, firelight radiance over all the household. Now, while we thought not of it, the dark clad mourner, Grief, has stolen into the place of Joy, but not to retain it long. The imagination can hardly grasp so wide a subject, as is embraced in the experience of a family chair.”

  “It makes my breath flutter—my heart thrill—to think of it,” said Laurence. “Yes; a family chair must have a deeper history than a Chair of State.”

  “Oh, yes!” cried Clara, expressing a woman’s feeling on the point in question. “The history of a country is not near so interesting as that of a single family would be.”

  “But the history of a country is more easily told,” said Grandfather. “So, if we proceed with our narrative of the chair, I shall still confine myself to its connection with public events.”

  Good old Grandfather now rose and quitted the room, while the children remained gazing at the chair. Laurence, so vivid was his conception of past times, would hardly have deemed it strange, if its former occupants, one after another, had resumed the seat which they had each left vacant, such a dim length of years ago.

  First, the gentle and lovely lady Arbella would have been seen in the old chair, almost sinking out of its arms, for very weakness; then Roger Williams, in. his cloak and band, earnest, energetic, and benevolent; then the figure of Anne Hutchinson, with the like gesture as when she presided at the assemblages of women; then the dark, intellectual face of Vane, “young in years, but in sage counsel old.” Next would have appeared the successive governors, Winthrop, Dudley, Bellingham, and Endicott, who sat in the chair, while it was a Chair of State. Then its ample seat would have been pressed by the comfortable, rotund corporation of the honest mint-master. Then the half-frenzied shape of Mary Dyer, the persecuted Quaker woman, clad in sackcloth and ashes, would have rested in it for a moment. Then the holy apostolic form of Eliot would have sanctified it. Then would have arisen, like the shade of departed Puritanism, the venerable dignity of the white-bearded Governor Bradstreet. Lastly, on the gorgeous crimson cushion of Grandfather’s chair, would have shone the purple and golden magnificence of Sir William Phips.

  But, all these, with the other historic personages, in the midst of whom the chair had so often stood, had passed, both in substance and shadow, from the scene of ages. Yet here stood the chair, with the old Lincoln coat of arms, and the oaken flowers and foliage, and the fierce lion’s head at the summit, the whole, apparently, in as perfect preservation as when it had first been placed in the Earl of Lincoln’s Hall. And what vast changes of society and of nations had been wrought, by sudden convulsions or by slow degrees, since that era!

  “This chair has stood firm when the thrones of kings were overturned!” thought Laurence. “Its oaken frame has proved stronger than many frames of government!”

  More the thoughtful and imaginative boy might have mused; but now a large yellow cat, a great favorite with all the children, leaped in at the open window. Perceiving that Grandfather’s chair was empty, and having often before experienced its comforts, puss laid herself quietly down upon the cushion. Laurence, Clara, Charley, and little Alice, all laughed at the idea of such a successor to the worthies of old times.

  “Pussy,” said little Alice, putting out her hand, into which the cat laid a velvet paw; “you look very wise. Do tell us a story about GRANDFATHER’S CHAIR!”

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