The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

12. The Daguerreotypist
IT must not be supposed that the life of a personage naturally so active as Phoebe could
be wholly confined within the precincts of the old Pyncheon House. Clifford's demands
upon her time were usually satisfied, in those long days, considerably earlier than sunset.
Quiet as his daily existence seemed, it nevertheless drained all the resources by which he
lived. It was not physical exercise that overwearied him,--for except that he sometimes
wrought a little with a hoe, or paced the garden-walk, or, in rainy weather, traversed a
large unoccupied room,--it was his tendency to remain only too quiescent, as regarded
any toil of the limbs and muscles. But, either there was a smouldering fire within him that
consumed his vital energy, or the monotony that would have dragged itself with
benumbing effect over a mind differently situated was no monotony to Clifford. Possibly,
he was in a state of second growth and recovery, and was constantly assimilating
nutriment for his spirit and intellect from sights, sounds, and events which passed as a
perfect void to persons more practised with the world. As all is activity and vicissitude to
the new mind of a child, so might it be, likewise, to a mind that had undergone a kind of
new creation, after its long-suspended life.
Be the cause what it might, Clifford commonly retired to rest, thoroughly exhausted,
while the sunbeams were still melting through his window-curtains, or were thrown with
late lustre on the chamber wall. And while he thus slept early, as other children do, and
dreamed of childhood, Phoebe was free to follow her own tastes for the remainder of the
day and evening.
This was a freedom essential to the health even of a character so little susceptible of
morbid influences as that of Phoebe. The old house, as we have already said, had both the
dry-rot and the damp-rot in its walls; it was not good to breathe no other atmosphere than
that. Hepzibah, though she had her valuable and redeeming traits, had grown to be a kind
of lunatic by imprisoning herself so long in one place, with no other company than a
single series of ideas, and but one affection, and one bitter sense of wrong. Clifford, the
reader may perhaps imagine, was too inert to operate morally on his fellow-creatures,
however intimate and exclusive their relations with him. But the sympathy or magnetism
among human beings is more subtile and universal than we think; it exists, indeed, among
different classes of organized life, and vibrates from one to another. A flower, for
instance, as Phoebe herself observed, always began to droop sooner in Clifford's hand, or
Hepzibah's, than in her own; and by the same law, converting her whole daily life into a
flower fragrance for these two sickly spirits, the blooming girl must inevitably droop and
fade much sooner than if worn on a younger and happier breast. Unless she had now and
then indulged her brisk impulses, and breathed rural air in a suburban walk, or ocean
breezes along the shore,--had occasionally obeyed the impulse of Nature, in New
England girls, by attending a metaphysical or philosophical lecture, or viewing a seven-
mile panorama, or listening to a concert,--had gone shopping about the city, ransacking
entire depots of splendid merchandise, and bringing home a ribbon,--had employed,