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A Book of Autographs by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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By Nathaniel Hawthorne


We have before us a volume of autograph letters, chiefly of soldiers and
statesmen of the Revolution, and addressed to a good and brave man,
General Palmer, who himself drew his sword in the cause. They are
profitable reading in a quiet afternoon, and in a mood withdrawn from
too intimate relation with the present time; so that we can glide
backward some three quarters of a century, and surround ourselves with
the ominous sublimity of circumstances that then frowned upon the
writers. To give them their full effect, we should imagine that these
letters have this moment been brought to town by the splashed and way-
worn postrider, or perhaps by an orderly dragoon, who has ridden in a
perilous hurry to deliver his despatches. They are magic scrolls, if
read in the right spirit. The roll of the drum and the fanfare of the
trumpet is latent in some of them; and in others, an echo of the oratory
that resounded in the old halls of the Continental Congress, at
Philadelphia; or the words may come to us as with the living utterance
of one of those illustrious men, speaking face to face, in friendly
communion. Strange, that the mere identity of paper and ink should be
so powerful. The same thoughts might look cold and ineffectual, in a
printed book. Human nature craves a certain materialism and clings
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