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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Oldport In Winter

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The ancient aspect of things around us, joined with the softening influences of the Gulf Stream, imparts an air of chronic languor to the special types of society which here prevail in winter,--as, for instance, people of leisure, trades-people living on their summer's gains, and, finally, fishermen. Those who pursue this last laborious calling are always lazy to the eye, for they are on shore only in lazy moments. They work by night or at early dawn, and by day they perhaps lie about on the rocks, or sit upon one heel beside a fish-house door. I knew a missionary who resigned his post at the Isles of Shoals because it was impossible to keep the Sunday worshippers from lying at full length on the seats. Our boatmen have the same habit, and there is a certain dreaminess about them, in whatever posture. Indeed, they remind one quite closely of the German boatman in Uhland, who carried his reveries so far as to accept three fees from one passenger.

But the truth is, that in Oldport we all incline to the attitude of repose. Now and then a man comes here, from farther east, with the New England fever in his blood, and with a pestilent desire to do something. You hear of him, presently, proposing that the Town Hall should be repainted. Opposition would require too much effort, and the thing is done. But the Gulf Stream soon takes its revenge on the intruder, and gradually repaints him also, with its own soft and mellow tints. In a few years he would no more bestir himself to fight for a change than to fight against it.

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It makes us smile a little, therefore, to observe that universal delusion among the summer visitors, that we spend all winter in active preparations for next season. Not so; we all devote it solely to meditations on the season past. I observe that nobody in Oldport ever believes in any coming summer. Perhaps the tide is turned, we think, and people will go somewhere else. You do not find us altering our houses in December, or building out new piazzas even in March. We wait till the people have actually come to occupy them. The preparation for visitors is made after the visitors have arrived. This may not be the way in which things are done in what are called "smart business places." But it is our way in Oldport.

It is another delusion to suppose that we are bored by this long epoch of inactivity. Not at all; we enjoy it. If you enter a shop in winter, you will find everybody rejoiced to see you--as a friend; but if it turns out that you have come as a customer, people will look a little disappointed. It is rather inconsiderate of you to make such demands out of season. Winter is not exactly the time for that sort of thing. It seems rather to violate the conditions of the truce. Could you not postpone the affair till next July? Every country has its customs; I observe that in some places, New York for instance, the shopkeepers seem rather to enjoy a "field-day" when the sun and the customers are out. In Oldport, on the contrary, men's spirits droop at such times, and they go through their business sadly. They force themselves to it during the summer, perhaps,--for one must make some sacrifices,--but in winter it is inappropriate as strawberries and cream.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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