The House of the Seven Gables
Family Quotes Page 1
How we cite our quotes:
The reader may deem it singular that the head carpenter of the new edifice was no other than the son of the very man from whose dead gripe the property of the soil had been wrested. Not improbably he was the best workman of his time; or, perhaps, the Colonel thought it expedient, or was impelled by some better feeling, thus openly to cast aside all animosity against the race of his fallen antagonist. Nor was it out of keeping with the general coarseness and matter-of-fact character of the age, that the son should be willing to earn an honest penny, or, rather, a weighty amount of sterling pounds, from the purse of his father's deadly enemy. At all events, Thomas Maule became the architect of the House of the Seven Gables, and performed his duty so faithfully that the timber framework fastened by his hands still holds together. (1.7)
Most of the first chapter of The House of the Seven Gables is dedicated to the peculiar Pyncheon family. We learn that the Pyncheons have a huge amount of family pride and cling to their history. But the Maule family is much harder to figure out. If they have any strong family resentments, they aren't telling anyone about them – in fact, the Pyncheon family seems to be brooding about Matthew Maule much more than his actual descendants. Why might guilt be more important than family loyalty in keeping memory alive? What point might Hawthorne be trying to get across here?
When the pathless forest that still covered this wild principality should give place—as it inevitably must, though perhaps not till ages hence—to the golden fertility of human culture, it would be the source of incalculable wealth to the Pyncheon blood. Had the Colonel survived only a few weeks longer, it is probable that his great political influence, and powerful connections at home and abroad, would have consummated all that was necessary to render the claim available. But, in spite of good Mr. Higginson's congratulatory eloquence, this appeared to be the one thing which Colonel Pyncheon, provident and sagacious as he was, had allowed to go at loose ends. So far as the prospective territory was concerned, he unquestionably died too soon. His son lacked not merely the father's eminent position, but the talent and force of character to achieve it: he could, therefore, effect nothing by dint of political interest; and the bare justice or legality of the claim was not so apparent, after the Colonel's decease, as it had been pronounced in his lifetime. Some connecting link had slipped out of the evidence, and could not anywhere be found. (1.24)
One of the things we find fascinating about Hawthorne's depiction of the early Puritan days is that land ownership is an act of will. Colonel Pyncheon is able to grab a chunk of Maine because he insists that it's his right. When he dies, his son is too weak to hang on to this property. Since the Europeans' whole process of settling the Americas in the first place was through a land grab, it seems odd to think of legal limits on the early settlers. We are really curious about how the Puritans decided they were entitled to certain land in Massachusetts but not other land elsewhere.
But there is no one thing which men so rarely do, whatever the provocation or inducement, as to bequeath patrimonial property away from their own blood. They may love other individuals far better than their relatives, – they may even cherish dislike, or positive hatred, to the latter; but yet, in view of death, the strong prejudice of propinquity revives, and impels the testator to send down his estate in the line marked out by custom so immemorial that it looks like nature. In all the Pyncheons, this feeling had the energy of disease. It was too powerful for the conscientious scruples of the old bachelor; at whose death, accordingly, the mansion-house, together with most of his other riches, passed into the possession of his next legal representative. (1.30)
Even the elderly bachelor who considers handing over the House of the Seven Gables to a representative of Matthew Maule doesn't go so far as to change his will to prevent his own family from inheriting. Having a family house gives the owners a kind of immortality: even after individuals die, the family as a whole continues on. This is probably the worst thing the Pyncheons do to the Maules: they take away the Maule family home, so there's nothing left to draw them together (except maybe the memory of Matthew Maule's execution for witchcraft).