Nathaniel Hawthorne

         Drowne's Wooden Image
            (Mosses From An Old Manse)

     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 
     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  permanent  existence  possessed  by  the boy's frozen statues. Yet they won
admiration  from  maturer  judges  than  his  school-fellows,  and were indeed,
remarkably  clever,  though destitute of the native warmth that might have made
the  snow  melt beneath his hand. As he advanced in life, the young man adopted
pine  and  oak  as  eligible  materials for the display of his skill, which now
began  to  bring  him a return of solid silver as well as the empty praise that
had been an apt reward enough for his productions of evanescent snow. He became
noted  for  carving  ornamental pump heads, and wooden urns for gate posts, and
decorations,  more  grotesque  than  fanciful,  for mantelpieces. No apothecary
would  have  deemed himself in the way of obtaining custom without setting up a
gilded  mortar, if not a head of Galen or Hippocrates, from the skilful hand of
     But the great scope of his business lay in the manufacture of figure-heads
for  vessels.  Whether  it  were  the  monarch  himself, or some famous British
admiral  or general, or the governor of the province, or perchance the favorite
daughter of the ship-owner, there the image stood above the prow, decked out in
gorgeous  colors,  magnificently  gilded,  and  staring  the whole world out of
countenance,  as  if from an innate consciousness of its own superiority. These
specimens  of  native sculpture had crossed the sea in all directions, and been
not  ignobly noticed among the crowded shipping of the Thames and wherever else
the  hardy  mariners  of  New  England  had pushed their adventures. It must be
confessed that a family likeness pervaded these respectable progeny of Drowne's
skill; that the benign countenance of the king resembled those of his subjects,
and  that  Miss  Peggy  Hobart,  the  merchant's  daughter,  bore  a remarkable
similitude to Britannia, Victory, and other ladies of the allegoric sisterhood;
and,  finally,  that  they  all  had  a  kind  of wooden aspect which proved an
intimate  relationship  with  the  unshaped  blocks  of  timber in the carver's
workshop.  But  at  least  there  was  no  inconsiderable  skill of hand, nor a
deficiency  of  any  attribute  to render them really works of art, except that
deep  quality, be it of soul or intellect, which bestows life upon the lifeless
and  warmth  upon  the  cold,  and  which, had it been present, would have made
Drowne's wooden image instinct with spirit.
     The captain of the Cynosure had now finished his instructions.
     "And  Drowne,"  said  he,  impressively,  "you  must  lay  aside all other
business  and set about this forthwith. And as to the price, only do the job in
first-rate style, and you shall settle that point yourself."
     "Very  well,  captain," answered the carver, who looked grave and somewhat
perplexed, yet had a sort of smile upon his visage; "depend upon it, I'll do my
utmost to satisfy you."
     From  that  moment the men of taste about Long Wharf and the Town Dock who
were  wont  to  show  their  love  for  the arts by frequent visits to Drowne's
workshop,  and  admiration  of  his  wooden  images,  began to be sensible of a
mystery in the carver's conduct. Often he was absent in the daytime. Sometimes,
as  might  be  judged  by gleams of light from the shop windows, he was at work
until  a  late  hour  of the evening; although neither knock nor voice, on such
occasions, could gain admittance for a visitor, or elicit any word of response.
Nothing  remarkable, however, was observed in the shop at those late hours when
it  was  thrown open. A fine piece of timber, indeed, which Drowne was known to
have  reserved  for  some  work  of  especial dignity, was seen to be gradually
assuming  shape. What shape it was destined ultimately to take was a problem to
his  friends and a point on which the carver himself preserved a rigid silence.
But  day after day, though Drowne was seldom noticed in the act of working upon
it,  this  rude  form  began  to  be  developed  until it became evident to all
observers  that  a female figure was growing into mimic life. At each new visit
they  beheld  a  larger  pile  of  wooden  chips  and a nearer approximation to
something  beautiful.  It  seemed  as if the hamadryad of the oak had sheltered
herself  from  the unimaginative world within the heart of her native tree, and
that  it  was  only  necessary  to  remove  the  strange shapelessness that had
incrusted  her, and reveal the grace and loveliness of a divinity. Imperfect as
the  design,  the  attitude,  the costume, and especially the face of the image
still  remained,  there was already an effect that drew the eye from the wooden
cleverness  of  Drowne's  earlier productions and fixed it upon the tantalizing
mystery of this new project.
     Copley, the celebrated painter, then a young man and a resident of Boston,
came one day to visit Drowne; for he had recognized so much of moderate ability
in  the  carver  as  to  induce him, in the dearth of professional sympathy, to
cultivate  his  acquaintance.  On  entering the shop, the artist glanced at the
inflexible  image of king, commander, dame, and allegory, that stood around, on
the  best  of  which  might  have been bestowed the questionable praise that it
looked  as if a living man had here been changed to wood, and that not only the
physical,  but  the  intellectual  and  spiritual  part,  partook of the stolid
transformation.  But  in  not a single instance did it seem as if the wood were
imbibing the ethereal essence of humanity. What a wide distinction is here! and
how  far  the  slightest  portion of the latter merit have outvalued the utmost
degree of the former!
     "My  friend  Drowne;" said Copley, smiling to himself, but alluding to the
mechanical  and  wooden cleverness that so invariably distinguished the images,
"you  are really a remarkable person! I have seldom met with a man in your line
of  business  that could do so much; for one other touch might make this figure
of General Wolfe, for instance, a breathing and intelligent human creature."
     "You  would  have  me  think that you are praising me highly, Mr. Copley,"
answered  Drowne, turning his back upon Wolfe's image in apparent disgust. "But
there has come a light into my mind. I know what you know as well, that the one
touch  which  you  speak  of  as  deficient is the only one that would be truly
valuable,  and that without it these works of mine are no better than worthless
abortions.  There  is  the  same  difference  between  them and the works of an
inspired artist as between a sign-post daub and one of your best pictures."
     "This  is  strange,"  cried Copley, looking him in the face, which now, as
the  painter  fancied, had a singular depth of intelligence, though hitherto it
had  not  given him greatly the advantage over his own family of wooden images.
"What has come over you? How is it that, possessing the idea which you have now
uttered, you should produce only such works as these?"
     The  carver  smiled, but made no reply. Copley turned again to the images,
conceiving  that  the  sense of deficiency which Drowne had just expressed, and
which  is so rare in a merely mechanical character, must surely imply a genius,
the  tokens  of  which  had heretofore been overlooked. But no; there was not a
trace  of  it.  He  was  about to withdraw when his eyes chanced to fall upon a
half-developed  figure  which  lay  in  a corner of the workshop, surrounded by
scattered chips of oak. It arrested him at once.
     "What is here? Who has done this?" he broke out, after contemplating it in
speechless  astonishment  for  an  instant. "Here is the divine, the lifegiving
touch.  What inspired hand is beckoning this wood to arise and live? Whose work
is this?"
     "No  man's  work,"  replied  Drowne. "The figure lies within that block of
oak, and it is my business to find it."
     "Drowne," said the true artist, grasping the carver fervently by the hand,
"you are a man of genius!"
     As  Copley  departed,  happening to glance backward from the threshold, he
beheld  Drowne  bending  over  the half-created shape, and stretching forth his
arms  as if he would have embraced and drawn it to his heart; while, had such a
miracle  been possible, his countenance expressed passion enough to communicate
warmth and sensibility to the lifeless oak.
     "Strange enough!" said the artist to himself. "Who would have looked for a
modern Pygmalion in the person of a Yankee mechanic!"
     As yet, the image was but vague in its outward presentment; so that, as in
the  cloud  shapes around the western sun, the observer rather felt, or was led
to  imagine,  than really saw what was intended by it. Day by day, however, the
work  assumed  greater  precision,  and settled its irregular and misty outline
into  distincter  grace  and  beauty. The general design was now obvious to the
common eye. It was a female figure, in what appeared to be a foreign dress; the
gown being laced over the bosom, and opening in front so as to disclose a skirt
or petticoat, the folds and inequalities of which were admirably represented in
the  oaken  substance.  She wore a hat of singular gracefulness, and abundantly
laden  with  flowers,  such  as never grew in the rude soil of New England, but
which,  with  all their fanciful luxuriance, had a natural truth that it seemed
impossible  for  the  most fertile imagination to have attained without copying
from  real prototypes. There were several little appendages to this dress, such
as a fan, a pair of earrings, a chain about the neck, a watch in the bosom, and
a ring upon the finger, all of which would have been deemed beneath the dignity
of  sculpture.  They were put on, however, with as much taste as a lovely woman
might  have  shown  in  her attire, and could therefore have shocked none but a
judgment spoiled by artistic rules.
     The   face   was  still  imperfect;  but  gradually,  by  a  magic  touch,
intelligence  and  sensibility  brightened  through  the features, with all the
effect  of  light  gleaming  forth  from  within the solid oak. The face became
alive.  It  was  a beautiful, though not precisely regular and somewhat haughty
aspect,  but  with  a  certain piquancy about the eyes and mouth, which, of all
expressions,  would  have  seemed  the  most  impossible to throw over a wooden
countenance.  And  now,  so  far as carving went, this wonderful production was
     "Drowne," said Copley, who had hardly missed a single day in his visits to
the carver's workshop, "if this work were in marble it would make you famous at
once; nay, I would almost affirm that it would make an era in the art. It is as
ideal  as an antique statue, and yet as real as any lovely woman whom one meets
at  a  fireside or in the street. But I trust you do not mean to desecrate this
exquisite creature with paint, like those staring kings and admirals yonder?"
     "Not paint her!" exclaimed Captain Hunnewell, who stood by; "not paint the
figure-head  of  the  Cynosure!  And  what  sort  of a figure should I cut in a
foreign port with such an unpainted oaken stick as this over my prow! She must,
and  she shall, be painted to the life, from the topmost flower in her hat down
to the silver spangles on her slippers."
     "Mr. Copley,"  said  Drowne,  quietly, "I know nothing of marble statuary,
and nothing of the sculptor's rules of art; but of this wooden image, this work
of  my  hands,  this  creature  of my heart," — and here his voice faltered and
choked in a very  singular  manner, — "of this — of her — I may say that I know
something.  A  well-spring  of inward wisdom gushed within me as I wrought upon
the  oak  with  my whole strength, and soul, and faith. Let others do what they
may  with marble, and adopt what rules they choose. If I can produce my desired
effect  by  painted  wood,  those  rules  are not for me, and I have a right to
disregard them."
     "The  very  spirit  of genius," muttered Copley to himself. "How otherwise
should  this  carver  feel himself entitled to transcend all rules, and make me
ashamed of quoting them?"
     He looked earnestly at Drowne, and again saw that expression of human love
which,  in  a  spiritual sense, as the artist could not help imagining, was the
secret of the life that had been breathed into this block of wood.
     The  carver, still in the same secrecy that marked all his operations upon
this  mysterious  image,  proceeded  to  paint  the habiliments in their proper
colors,  and the countenance with Nature's red and white. When all was finished
he threw open his workshop, and admitted the towns people to behold what he had
done.  Most  persons,  at  their  first entrance, felt impelled to remove their
hats,  and  pay  such  reverence as was due to the richly-dressed and beautiful
young  lady  who  seemed to stand in a corner of the room, with oaken chips and
shavings scattered at her feet. Then came a sensation of fear; as if, not being
actually  human,  yet  so  like  humanity,  she  must  therefore  be  something
preternatural.  There  was,  in  truth,  an indefinable air and expression that
might  reasonably  induce  the query, Who and from what sphere this daughter of
the  oak  should  be?  The  strange,  rich  flowers  of  Eden  on her head; the
complexion,  so  much  deeper  and  more  brilliant  than  those  of our native
beauties;  the foreign, as it seemed, and fantastic garb, yet not too fantastic
to  be  worn decorously in the street; the delicately-wrought embroidery of the
skirt;  the  broad gold chain about her neck; the curious ring upon her finger;
the  fan, so exquisitely sculptured in open work, and painted to resemble pearl
and  ebony; — where  could  Drowne, in his sober walk of life,  have beheld the
vision  here  so matchlessly embodied! And then her face! In the dark eyes, and
around  the  voluptuous  mouth, there played a look made up of pride, coquetry,
and  a  gleam  of  mirthfulness,  which impressed Copley with the idea that the
image  was  secretly enjoying  the  perplexing  admiration of himself and other
     "And will you," said he to the carver,  "permit this masterpiece to become
the figure-head  of  a  vessel?  Give  the  honest  captain  yonder  figure  of 
Britannia — it will answer his purpose far better — and send  this fairy  queen 
to England, where, for aught I know, it may bring you a thousand pounds."
     "I have not wrought it for money," said Drowne.
     "What sort of a fellow is this!" thought Copley. "A Yankee, and throw away
the  chance  of  making  his fortune! He has gone mad; and thence has come this
gleam of genius."
     There  was  still  further proof of Drowne's lunacy, if credit were due to
the  rumor  that  he  had been seen kneeling at the feet of the oaken lady, and
gazing  with  a  lover's  passionate ardor into the face that his own hands had
created. The bigots of the day hinted that it would be no matter of surprise if
an evil spirit were allowed to enter this beautiful form, and seduce the carver
to destruction.
     The  fame  of the image spread far and wide. The inhabitants visited it so
universally, that after a few days of exhibition there was hardly an old man or
a  child  who  had  not  become minutely familiar with its aspect. Even had the
story  of  Drowne's  wooden  image  ended  here,  its celebrity might have been
prolonged  for  many  years by the reminiscences of those who looked upon it in
their  childhood, and saw nothing else so beautiful in after life. But the town
was  now  astounded  by an event, the narrative of which has formed itself into
one  of  the  most  singular  legends  that  are  yet  to  be  met  with in the
traditionary  chimney  corners of the New England metropolis, where old men and
women  sit  dreaming  of  the  past, and wag their heads at the dreamers of the
present and the future.
     One  fine morning, just before the departure of the Cynosure on her second
voyage  to  Fayal,  the commander of that gallant vessel was seen to issue from
his  residence in Hanover Street. He was stylishly dressed in a blue broadcloth
coat,  with  gold  lace  at  the seams and button-holes, an embroidered scarlet
waistcoat,  a triangular hat, with a loop and broad binding of gold, and wore a
silver-hilted  hanger at his side. But the good captain might have been arrayed
in  the  robes  of  a  prince  or  the rags of a beggar, without in either case
attracting notice, while obscured by such a companion as now leaned on his arm.
The  people  in  the street started, rubbed their eyes, and either leaped aside
from their path, or stood as if transfixed to wood or marble in astonishment.
     "Do you see it? — do you see it?" cried one, with tremulous eagerness. "It
is the very same!"
     "The  same?"  answered  another,  who  had  arrived in town only the night
before.  "Who  do you mean? I see only a sea-captain in his shoregoing clothes,
and  a  young lady in a foreign habit, with a bunch of beautiful flowers in her
hat.  On  my word, she is as fair and bright a damsel as my eyes have looked on
this many a day!"
     "Yes;  the  same! — the very same!"  repeated the other.  "Drowne's wooden
image has come to life!"
     Here  was  a miracle indeed! Yet, illuminated by the sunshine, or darkened
by  the alternate shade of the houses, and with its garments fluttering lightly
in  the morning breeze, there passed the image along the street. It was exactly
and  minutely  the  shape, the garb, and the face which the towns-people had so
recently  thronged  to  see  and admire. Not a rich flower upon her head, not a
single leaf, but had had its prototype in Drowne's wooden workmanship, although
now  their  fragile grace had become flexible, and was shaken by every footstep
that the wearer made. The broad gold chain upon the neck was identical with the
one  represented  on  the  image, and glistened with the motion imparted by the
rise  and  fall of the bosom which it decorated. A real diamond sparkled on her
finger.  In her right hand she bore a pearl and ebony fan, which she flourished
with  a  fantastic  and bewitching coquetry, that was likewise expressed in all
her movements as well as in the style of her beauty and the attire that so well
harmonized  with  it.  The  face with its brilliant depth of complexion had the
same  piquancy  of mirthful mischief that was fixed upon the countenance of the
image,  but  which  was  here  varied  and  continually  shifting,  yet  always
essentially  the  same,  like  the sunny gleam upon a bubbling fountain. On the
whole, there was something so airy and yet so real in the figure, and withal so
perfectly  did  it  represent  Drowne's  image, that people knew not whether to
suppose  the  magic wood etherealized into a spirit or warmed and softened into
an actual woman.
     "One  thing  is certain," muttered a Puritan of the old stamp, "Drowne has
sold  himself to the devil; and doubtless this gay Captain Hunnewell is a party
to the bargain."
     "And  I,"  said a young man who overheard him, "would almost consent to be
the third victim, for the liberty of saluting those lovely lips."
     "And  so  would I," said Copley, the painter, "for the privilege of taking
her picture."
     The image, or the apparition, whichever it might be, still escorted by the
bold  captain,  proceeded  from  Hanover Street through some of the cross lanes
that  make  this  portion  of the town so intricate, to Ann Street, thence into
Dock  Square, and so downward to Drowne's shop, which stood just on the water's
edge.  The crowd still followed, gathering volume as it rolled along. Never had
a modern miracle occurred in such broad daylight, nor in the presence of such a
multitude of witnesses. The airy image, as if conscious that she was the object
of the murmurs and disturbance that swelled behind her, appeared slightly vexed
and  flustered,  yet  still  in a manner consistent with the light vivacity and
sportive  mischief  that  were  written in her countenance. She was observed to
flutter  her fan with such vehement rapidity that the elaborate delicacy of its
workmanship gave way, and it remained broken in her hand.
     Arriving at Drowne's door, while the captain threw it open, the marvellous
apparition  paused  an  instant on the threshold, assuming the very attitude of
the  image,  and casting over the crowd that glance of sunny coquetry which all
remembered  on  the  face  of  the  oaken  lady.  She  and  her  cavalier  then 
     "Ah!" murmured the crowd,  drawing a deep breath, as with one vast pair of
     "The world looks darker now that she has vanished," said some of the young
     But  the aged, whose recollections dated as far back as witch times, shook
their heads, and hinted that our forefathers would have thought it a pious deed
to burn the daughter of the oak with fire.
     "If she be other than a bubble of the elements," exclaimed Copley, "I must
look upon her face again."
     He accordingly entered the shop; and there, in her usual corner, stood the
image,  gazing  at  him,  as  it  might  seem, with the very same expression of
mirthful mischief that had been the farewell look of the apparition when, but a
moment  before,  she turned her face towards the crowd. The carver stood beside
his  creation  mending  the beautiful fan, which by some accident was broken in
her  hand.  But  there  was no longer any motion in the lifelike image, nor any
real  woman  in  the  workshop, nor even the witchcraft of a sunny shadow, that
might  have  deluded  people's  eyes  as  it  flitted along the street. Captain
Hunnewell,  too,  had  vanished.  His  hoarse  sea-breezy  tones, however, were
audible on the other side of a door that opened upon the water.
     "Sit  down in the stern sheets, my lady," said the gallant captain. "Come,
bear  a  hand,  you  lubbers,  and  set  us  on  board  in  the  turning  of  a
     And then was heard the stroke of oars.
     "Drowne," said Copley with a smile of intelligence, "you have been a truly
fortunate man. What painter or statuary ever had such a subject! No wonder that
she  inspired  a  genius  into you, and first created the artist who afterwards
created her image."
     Drowne looked at him with a visage that bore the traces of tears, but from
which  the  light  of imagination and sensibility, so recently illuminating it,
had  departed.  He was again the mechanical carver that he had been known to be
all his lifetime.
     "I hardly understand what you mean, Mr. Copley," said he, putting his hand
to  his brow. "This image! Can it have been my work? Well, I have wrought it in
a  kind  of  dream;  and  now  that I am broad awake I must set about finishing
yonder figure of Admiral Vernon."
     And  forthwith he employed himself on the stolid countenance of one of his
wooden progeny, and completed it in his own mechanical style, from which he was
never  known  afterwards to deviate. He followed his business industriously for
many  years, acquired a competence, and in the latter part of his life attained
to  a  dignified  station  in  the  church,  being  remembered  in  records and
traditions  as  Deacon  Drowne,  the  carver. One of his productions, an Indian
chief, gilded all over, stood during the better part of a century on the cupola
of  the Province House, bedazzling the eyes of those who looked upward, like an
angel  of  the sun. Another work of the good deacon's hand — a reduced likeness
of his friend Captain Hunnewell, holding a telescope and quadrant — may be seen
to  this  day,  at the corner of Broad and State streets, serving in the useful
capacity of sign to the shop of a nautical instrument maker. We know not how to
account  for  the  inferiority  of this quaint old figure, as compared with the
recorded  excellence of the Oaken Lady, unless on the supposition that in every
human  spirit there is imagination, sensibility, creative power, genius, which,
according  to circumstances, may either be developed in this world, or shrouded
in  a  mask of dulness until another state of being. To our friend Drowne there
came  a  brief  season of excitement, kindled by love. It rendered him a genius
for  that  one  occasion,  but,  quenched in disappointment, left him again the
mechanical carver in wood, without the power even of appreciating the work that
his  own  hands  had  wrought. Yet who can doubt that the very highest state to
which a human spirit can attain, in its loftiest aspirations, is its truest and
most  natural  state,  and that Drowne was more consistent with himself when he
wrought the admirable figure of the mysterious lady, than when he perpetrated a
whole progeny of blockheads?
     There was a rumor in Boston,  about  this period,  that a young Portuguese
lady  of  rank, on some occasion of political or domestic disquietude, had fled
from  her  home  in  Fayal  and  put  herself  under  the protection of Captain
Hunnewell,  on board of whose vessel, and at whose residence, she was sheltered
until  a  change  of affairs. This fair stranger must have been the original of
Drowne's Wooden Image.


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