The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

1. The Old Pyncheon Family
HALFWAY down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden
house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass,
and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the
old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is
familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm. On my occasional
visits to the town aforesaid, I seldom failed to turn down Pyncheon Street, for the sake of
passing through the shadow of these two antiquities, --the great elm-tree and the weather-
beaten edifice.
The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like a human countenance,
bearing the traces not merely of outward storm and sunshine, but expressive also, of the
long lapse of mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes that have passed within. Were
these to be worthily recounted, they would form a narrative of no small interest and
instruction, and possessing, moreover, a certain remarkable unity, which might almost
seem the result of artistic arrangement. But the story would include a chain of events
extending over the better part of two centuries, and, written out with reasonable
amplitude, would fill a bigger folio volume, or a longer series of duodecimos, than could
prudently be appropriated to the annals of all New England during a similar period. It
consequently becomes imperative to make short work with most of the traditionary lore
of which the old Pyncheon House, otherwise known as the House of the Seven Gables,
has been the theme. With a brief sketch, therefore, of the circumstances amid which the
foundation of the house was laid, and a rapid glimpse at its quaint exterior, as it grew
black in the prevalent east wind,--pointing, too, here and there, at some spot of more
verdant mossiness on its roof and walls,--we shall commence the real action of our tale at
an epoch not very remote from the present day. Still, there will be a connection with the
long past--a reference to forgotten events and personages, and to manners, feelings, and
opinions, almost or wholly obsolete --which, if adequately translated to the reader, would
serve to illustrate how much of old material goes to make up the freshest novelty of
human life. Hence, too, might be drawn a weighty lesson from the little-regarded truth,
that the act of the passing generation is the germ which may and must produce good or
evil fruit in a far-distant time; that, together with the seed of the merely temporary crop,
which mortals term expediency, they inevitably sow the acorns of a more enduring
growth, which may darkly overshadow their posterity.
The House of the Seven Gables, antique as it now looks, was not the first habitation
erected by civilized man on precisely the same spot of ground. Pyncheon Street formerly
bore the humbler appellation of Maule's Lane, from the name of the original occupant of
the soil, before whose cottage-door it was a cow-path. A natural spring of soft and
pleasant water--a rare treasure on the sea-girt peninsula where the Puritan settlement was
made--had early induced Matthew Maule to build a hut, shaggy with thatch, at this point,
although somewhat too remote from what was then the centre of the village. In the