The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

WHEN a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to
claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt
himself entitled to assume had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of
composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but
to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former--while, as a work of
art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may
swerve aside from the truth of the human heart--has fairly a right to present that truth
under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. If he
think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the
lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture. He will be wise, no doubt, to
make a very moderate use of the privileges here stated, and, especially, to mingle the
Marvelous rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor, than as any portion of the
actual substance of the dish offered to the public. He can hardly be said, however, to
commit a literary crime even if he disregard this caution.
In the present work, the author has proposed to himself--but with what success,
fortunately, it is not for him to judge--to keep undeviatingly within his immunities. The
point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to
connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us. It is a legend
prolonging itself, from an epoch now gray in the distance, down into our own broad
daylight, and bringing along with it some of its legendary mist, which the reader,
according to his pleasure, may either disregard, or allow it to float almost imperceptibly
about the characters and events for the sake of a picturesque effect. The narrative, it may
be, is woven of so humble a texture as to require this advantage, and, at the same time, to
render it the more difficult of attainment.
Many writers lay very great stress upon some definite moral purpose, at which they
profess to aim their works. Not to be deficient in this particular, the author has provided
himself with a moral,--the truth, namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives
into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a
pure and uncontrollable mischief; and he would feel it a singular gratification if this
romance might effectually convince mankind--or, indeed, any one man--of the folly of
tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an
unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them, until the accumulated mass shall
be scattered abroad in its original atoms. In good faith, however, he is not sufficiently
imaginative to flatter himself with the slightest hope of this kind. When romances do
really teach anything, or produce any effective operation, it is usually through a far more
subtile process than the ostensible one. The author has considered it hardly worth his
while, therefore, relentlessly to impale the story with its moral as with an iron rod,--or,
rather, as by sticking a pin through a butterfly, --thus at once depriving it of life, and
causing it to stiffen in an ungainly and unnatural attitude. A high truth, indeed, fairly,