Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Great Stone Face, and Other Tales of the White Mountains, Page 1

Nathaniel Hawthorne

  Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer and David Widger


  By Nathaniel Hawthorne



  Introduction The Great Stone Face The Ambitious Guest The Great Carbuncle Sketches From Memory


  THE first three numbers in this collection are tales of the White Hillsin New Hampshire. The passages from Sketches from Memory show thatHawthorne had visited the mountains in one of his occasional ramblesfrom home, but there are no entries in his Note Books which giveaccounts of such a visit. There is, however, among these notesthe following interesting paragraph, written in 1840 and clearlyforeshadowing The Great Stone Face:

  'The semblance of a human face to be formed on the side of a mountain,or in the fracture of a small stone, by a lusus naturae [freak ofnature]. The face is an object of curiosity for years or centuries, andby and by a boy is born whose features gradually assume the aspect ofthat portrait. At some critical juncture the resemblance is found to beperfect. A prophecy may be connected.'

  It is not impossible that this conceit occurred to Hawthorne before hehad himself seen the Old Man of the Mountain, or the Profile, in theFranconia Notch which is generally associated in the minds of readerswith The Great Stone Face.

  In The Ambitious Guest he has made use of the incident still told totravellers through the Notch, of the destruction of the Willey familyin August, 1826. The house occupied by the family was on the slope ofa mountain, and after a long drought there was a terrible tempest whichnot only raised the river to a great height but loosened the surface ofthe mountain so that a great landslide took place. The house was inthe track of the slide, and the family rushed out of doors. Had theyremained within they would have been safe, for a ledge above the houseparted the avalanche so that it was diverted into two paths and sweptpast the house on either side. Mr. and Mrs. Willey, their five children,and two hired men were crushed under the weight of earth, rocks, andtrees.

  In the Sketches from Memory Hawthorne gives an intimation of the talewhich he might write and did afterward write of The Great Carbuncle. Thepaper is interesting as showing what were the actual experiences out ofwhich he formed his imaginative stories.

  THE GREAT STONE FACE and Other Tales Of The White Mountains


  One afternoon, when the sun was going down, a mother and her little boysat at the door of their cottage, talking about the Great Stone Face.They had but to lift their eyes, and there it was plainly to be seen,though miles away, with the sunshine brightening all its features.And what was the Great Stone Face? Embosomed amongst a family oflofty mountains, there was a valley so spacious that it contained manythousand inhabitants. Some of these good people dwelt in log-huts, withthe black forest all around them, on the steep and difficult hillsides.Others had their homes in comfortable farm-houses, and cultivated therich soil on the gentle slopes or level surfaces of the valley. Others,again, were congregated into populous villages, where some wild,highland rivulet, tumbling down from its birthplace in the uppermountain region, had been caught and tamed by human cunning, andcompelled to turn the machinery of cotton-factories. The inhabitants ofthis valley, in short, were numerous, and of many modes of life. But allof them, grown people and children, had a kind of familiarity with theGreat Stone Face, although some possessed the gift of distinguishingthis grand natural phenomenon more perfectly than many of theirneighbors.

  The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of majestieplayfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by someimmense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position as,when viewed at a proper distance, precisely to resemble the features ofthe human countenance. It seemed as if an enormous giant, or a Titan,had sculptured his own likeness on the precipice. There was the broadarch of the forehead, a hundred feet in height; the nose, with its longbridge; and the vast lips, which, if they could have spoken, would haverolled their thunder accents from one end of the valley to the other.True it is, that if the spectator approached too near, he lost theoutline of the gigantic visage, and could discern only a heap ofponderous and gigantic rocks, piled in chaotic ruin one upon another.Retracing his steps, however, the wondrous features would again be seen;and the farther he withdrew from them, the more like a human face, withall its original divinity intact, did they appear; until, as it grew dimin the distance, with the clouds and glorified vapor of the mountainsclustering about it, the Great Stone Face seemed positively to be alive.

  It was a happy lot for children to grow up to manhood or womanhood withthe Great Stone Face before their eyes, for all the features were noble,and the expression was at once grand and sweet, as if it were the glowof a vast, warm heart, that embraced all mankind in its affections, andhad room for more. It was an education only to look at it. According tothe belief of many people, the valley owed much of its fertility to thisbenign aspect that was continually beaming over it, illuminating theclouds, and infusing its tenderness into the sunshine.

  As we began with saying, a mother and her little boy sat at theircottage-door, gazing at the Great Stone Face, and talking about it. Thechild's name was Ernest.

  'Mother,' said he, while the Titanic visage miled on him, 'I wish thatit could speak, for it looks so very kindly that its voice must needsbe pleasant. If I were to See a man with such a face, I should love himdearly.' 'If an old prophecy should come to pass,' answered his mother,'we may see a man, some time for other, with exactly such a face asthat.' 'What prophecy do you mean, dear mother?' eagerly inquiredErnest. 'Pray tell me all about it!'

  So his mother told him a story that her own mother had told to her, whenshe herself was younger than little Ernest; a story, not of things thatwere past, but of what was yet to come; a story, nevertheless, so veryold, that even the Indians, who formerly inhabited this valley, hadheard it from their forefathers, to whom, as they affirmed, it had beenmurmured by the mountain streams, and whispered by the wind among thetree-tops. The purport was, that, at some future day, a child shouldbe born hereabouts, who was destined to become the greatest and noblestpersonage of his time, and whose countenance, in manhood, should bearan exact resemblance to the Great Stone Face. Not a few old-fashionedpeople, and young ones likewise, in the ardor of their hopes, stillcherished an enduring faith in this old prophecy. But others, who hadseen more of the world, had watched and waited till they were weary, andhad beheld no man with such a face, nor any man that proved to be muchgreater or nobler than his neighbors, concluded it to be nothing butan idle tale. At all events, the great man of the prophecy had not yetappeared.

  'O mother, dear mother!' cried Ernest, clapping his hands above his head,'I do hope that I shall live to see him!'

  His mother was an affectionate and thoughtful woman, and felt that itwas wisest not to discourage the generous hopes of her little boy. Soshe only said to him, 'Perhaps you may.'

  And Ernest never forgot the story that his mother told him. It wasalways in his mind, whenever he looked upon the Great Stone Face.He spent his childhood in the log-cottage where he was born, and wasdutiful to his mother, and helpful to her in many things, assistingher much with his little hands, and more with his loving heart. In thismanner, from a happy yet often pensive child, he grew up to be a mild,quiet, unobtrusive boy, and sun-browned with labor in the fields, butwith more intelligence brightening his aspect than is seen in many ladswho have been taught at famous schools. Yet Ernest had had no teacher,save only that the Great Stone Face became one to him. When the toilof the
day was over, he would gaze at it for hours, until he began toimagine that those vast features recognized him, and gave him a smile ofkindness and encouragement, responsive to his own look of veneration.We must not take upon us to affirm that this was a mistake, althoughthe Face may have looked no more kindly at Ernest than at all theworld besides. But the secret was that the boy's tender and confidingsimplicity discerned what other people could not see; and thus the love,which was meant for all, became his peculiar portion.

  About this time there went a rumor throughout the valley, that the greatman, foretold from ages long ago, who was to bear a resemblance tothe Great Stone Face, had appeared at last. It seems that, many yearsbefore, a young man had migrated from the valley and settled at adistant seaport, where, after getting together a little money, he hadset up as a shopkeeper. His name but I could never learn whether it washis real one, or a nickname that had grown out of his habits and successin life--was