Mosses from an Old Manse and other stories
Drowne's Wooden Image
One sunshiny morning, in the good old times of the town of Boston, a young carver in
wood, well known by the name of Drowne, stood contemplating a large oaken log, which
it was his purpose to convert into the figure-head of a vessel. And while he discussed
within his own mind what sort of shape or similitude it were well to bestow upon this
excellent piece of timber, there came into Drowne's workshop a certain Captain
Hunnewell, owner and commander of the good brig called the Cynosure, which had just
returned from her first voyage to Fayal.
"Ah! that will do, Drowne, that will do!" cried the jolly captain, tapping the log with his
rattan. "I bespeak this very piece of oak for the figure-head of the Cynosure. She has
shown herself the sweetest craft that ever floated, and I mean to decorate her prow with
the handsomest image that the skill of man can cut out of timber. And, Drowne, you are
the fellow to execute it."
"You give me more credit than I deserve, Captain Hunnewell," said the carver, modestly,
yet as one conscious of eminence in his art. "But, for the sake of the good brig, I stand
ready to do my best. And which of these designs do you prefer? Here,"--pointing to a
staring, half-length figure, in a white wig and scarlet coat,--"here is an excellent model,
the likeness of our gracious king. Here is the valiant Admiral Vernon. Or, if you prefer a
female figure, what say you to Britannia with the trident?"
"All very fine, Drowne; all very fine," answered the mariner. "But as nothing like the brig
ever swam the ocean, so I am determined she shall have such a figure-head as old
Neptune never saw in his life. And what is more, as there is a secret in the matter, you
must pledge your credit not to betray it."
"Certainly," said Drowne, marvelling, however, what possible mystery there could be in
reference to an affair so open, of necessity, to the inspection of all the world as the figure-
head of a vessel. "You may depend, captain, on my being as secret as the nature of the
case will permit."
Captain Hunnewell then took Drowne by the button, and communicated his wishes in so
low a tone that it would be unmannerly to repeat what was evidently intended for the
carver's private ear. We shall, therefore, take the opportunity to give the reader a few
desirable particulars about Drowne himself.
He was the first American who is known to have attempted--in a very humble line, it is
true--that art in which we can now reckon so many names already distinguished, or rising
to distinction. From his earliest boyhood he had exhibited a knack--for it would be too
proud a word to call it genius--a knack, therefore, for the imitation of the human figure in
whatever material came most readily to hand. The snows of a New England winter had
often supplied him with a species of marble as dazzingly white, at least, as the Parian or
the Carrara, and if less durable, yet sufficiently so to correspond with any claims to