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Part II. Nathaniel Hawthorne

VI. Pomps And Vanities

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A FEW evenings afterwards, cousin Clara happened inquire of Grandfather whether the old chair had never been present at a ball. At the same time little Alice brought forward a doll, with whom she had been holding a long conversation.

"See, Grandfather! "cried she. "Did such a pretty lady as this ever sit in your great chair?"

These questions led Grandfather to talk about the fashions and manners which now began to be introduced from England into the provinces. The simplicity of the good old Puritan times was fast disappearing. This was partly owing to the increasing number and wealth of the inhabitants, and to the additions which they continually received by the arrival and settlement of people from beyond the sea.

Another cause of a pompous and artificial mode of life, among those who could afford it, was that the example was set by the royal governors. Under the old charter, the governors were the representatives of the people, and therefore their way of living had probably been marked by a popular simplicity. But now, as they represented the person of the king, they thought it necessary to preserve the dignity of their station by the practice of high and gorgeous ceremonials. And, besides, the profitable offices under the government were filled by men who had lived in London, and had there contracted fashionable and luxurious habits of living which they would not now lay aside. The wealthy people of the province imitated them; and thus began a general change in social life.

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"So, my dear Clara," said Grandfather, "after our chair had entered the Province House, it must often have been present at balls and festivals; though I cannot give you a description of any particular one. But I doubt not that they were very magnificent; and slaves in gorgeous liveries waited on the guests, and offered them wine in goblets of massive silver."

"Were there slaves in those days!" exclaimed Clara.

"Yes, black slaves and white," replied Grandfather. "Our ancestors not only brought negroes from Africa, but Indians from South America, and white people from Ireland. These last were sold, not for life, but for a certain number of years, in order to pay the expenses of their voyage across the Atlantic. Nothing was more common than to see a lot of likely Irish girls advertised for sale in the newspapers. As for the little negro babies, they were offered to be giver away like young kittens."

"Perhaps Alice would have liked one to play with, instead of her doll," said Charley, laughing.

But little Alice clasped the waxen doll closer to her bosom.

"Now, as for this pretty doll, my little Alice," said Grandfather, "I wish you could have seen what splendid dresses the ladies wore in those times. They had silks, and satins, and damasks, and brocades, and high head-dresses, and all sorts of fine things. And they used to wear hooped petticoats of such enormous size that it was quite a journey to walk round them."

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Grandfather's Chair
Nathaniel Hawthorne

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