October 5, 2011

Birth of Gibson: a series of after-thoughts

At least one historian has put William Hamilton Gibson at the highest rank among people who have inspired a love of nature (alongside Henry David Thoreau). Born in Sandy Hook, Connecticut on October 5, 1850, Gibson became a naturalist, an illustrator, and an author (sometimes combining all three interests). His background as a New Englander certainly helped; he once wrote, "Yes, I am New England to the core. No other place on earth will ever be so near and dear or carry me to loftier mountain tops." His long lineage in that particular of the country stretched out and connected him to Ellery Channing, and Richard Henry Dana, Jr. One of his ancestors was fictionalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne's tale "Grandfather's Chair."

In 1882, Gibson published a book titled Pastoral Days, Or Memories of a New England Year. He divided the book (or "The Cycle," as he called it) into four chapters named after the four seasons. His chapter, "Summer," included his view of his home town Sandy Hook (disguised as "Hometown"):

The old homestead is situated in the heart of Hometown, fronting on the main street. The house itself is a series of after-thoughts, wing after wing, gable after gable having clustered around the old nucleus as the growth of new generations necessitated new accommodation. Its outward aspect is rather modern, but the interior with its broad open fireplace and accessories in the shape of crane and firedogs, is rich with all the features of typical New England.

"God's Miracle" by Gibson
In the book, the author serving as narrator returns to this "sanctuary [where] my footsteps first lead me." Entering through the great white front door, he climbs its creaky steps to the garret above. It has become a place of decay and sadness, "shrouded in a weird gloom" with "an air of melancholy mystery." From this garret, he looks out:

Looking through the dingy window between the maple boughs, my eye extends over lawn and shrubberies, three acres in extent — a little park, overrun with paths in every direction, through ancient orchard and embowered dells, while far beyond are glimpses of the wooded knolls and winding brook, and meadows dotted with waving willows, and farther still the ample undulating farm.

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