The Piazza Tales by Herman Melville


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Page 1


When I removed into the country, it was to occupy an old-fashioned
farm-house, which had no piazza--a deficiency the more regretted,
because not only did I like piazzas, as somehow combining the coziness
of in-doors with the freedom of out-doors, and it is so pleasant to
inspect your thermometer there, but the country round about was such a
picture, that in berry time no boy climbs hill or crosses vale without
coming upon easels planted in every nook, and sun-burnt painters
painting there. A very paradise of painters. The circle of the stars cut
by the circle of the mountains. At least, so looks it from the house;
though, once upon the mountains, no circle of them can you see. Had the
site been chosen five rods off, this charmed ring would not have been.

The house is old. Seventy years since, from the heart of the Hearth
Stone Hills, they quarried the Kaaba, or Holy Stone, to which, each
Thanksgiving, the social pilgrims used to come. So long ago, that, in
digging for the foundation, the workmen used both spade and axe,
fighting the Troglodytes of those subterranean parts--sturdy roots of a
sturdy wood, encamped upon what is now a long land-slide of sleeping
meadow, sloping away off from my poppy-bed. Of that knit wood, but one
survivor stands--an elm, lonely through steadfastness.

Whoever built the house, he builded better than he knew; or else Orion
in the zenith flashed down his Damocles' sword to him some starry night,
and said, "Build there." For how, otherwise, could it have entered the
builder's mind, that, upon the clearing being made, such a purple
prospect would be his?--nothing less than Greylock, with all his hills
about him, like Charlemagne among his peers.

Now, for a house, so situated in such a country, to have no piazza for
the convenience of those who might desire to feast upon the view, and
take their time and ease about it, seemed as much of an omission as if a
picture-gallery should have no bench; for what but picture-galleries are
the marble halls of these same limestone hills?--galleries hung, month
after month anew, with pictures ever fading into pictures ever fresh.
And beauty is like piety--you cannot run and read it; tranquillity and
constancy, with, now-a-days, an easy chair, are needed. For though, of
old, when reverence was in vogue, and indolence was not, the devotees of
Nature, doubtless, used to stand and adore--just as, in the cathedrals
of those ages, the worshipers of a higher Power did--yet, in these times
of failing faith and feeble knees, we have the piazza and the pew.

During the first year of my residence, the more leisurely to witness the
coronation of Charlemagne (weather permitting, they crown him every
sunrise and sunset), I chose me, on the hill-side bank near by, a royal
lounge of turf--a green velvet lounge, with long, moss-padded back;
while at the head, strangely enough, there grew (but, I suppose, for
heraldry) three tufts of blue violets in a field-argent of wild
strawberries; and a trellis, with honeysuckle, I set for canopy. Very
majestical lounge, indeed. So much so, that here, as with the reclining
majesty of Denmark in his orchard, a sly ear-ache invaded me. But, if
damps abound at times in Westminster Abbey, because it is so old, why
not within this monastery of mountains, which is older?

A piazza must be had.

The house was wide--my fortune narrow; so that, to build a panoramic
piazza, one round and round, it could not be--although, indeed,
considering the matter by rule and square, the carpenters, in the
kindest way, were anxious to gratify my furthest wishes, at I've
forgotten how much a foot.

Upon but one of the four sides would prudence grant me what I wanted.
Now, which side?

To the east, that long camp of the Hearth Stone Hills, fading far away
towards Quito; and every fall, a small white flake of something peering
suddenly, of a coolish morning, from the topmost cliff--the season's
new-dropped lamb, its earliest fleece; and then the Christmas dawn,
draping those dim highlands with red-barred plaids and tartans--goodly
sight from your piazza, that. Goodly sight; but, to the north is
Charlemagne--can't have the Hearth Stone Hills with Charlemagne.

Well, the south side. Apple-trees are there. Pleasant, of a balmy
morning, in the month of May, to sit and see that orchard, white-budded,
as for a bridal; and, in October, one green arsenal yard; such piles of
ruddy shot. Very fine, I grant; but, to the north is Charlemagne.

The west side, look. An upland pasture, alleying away into a maple wood
at top. Sweet, in opening spring, to trace upon the hill-side, otherwise
gray and bare--to trace, I say, the oldest paths by their streaks of
earliest green. Sweet, indeed, I can't deny; but, to the north is
Charlemagne.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Wed 17th Jul 2019, 0:47