Malbone: An Oldport Romance

Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson


AS one wanders along this southwestern promontory of the Isle of Peace, and looks down upon the green translucent water which forever bathes the marble slopes of the Pirates’ Cave, it is natural to think of the ten wrecks with which the past winter has strewn this shore. Though almost all trace of their presence is already gone, yet their mere memory lends to these cliffs a human interest. Where a stranded vessel lies, thither all steps converge, so long as one plank remains upon another. There centres the emotion. All else is but the setting, and the eye sweeps with indifference the line of unpeopled rocks. They are barren, till the imagination has tenanted them with possibilities of danger and dismay. The ocean provides the scenery and properties of a perpetual tragedy, but the interest arrives with the performers. Till then the shores remain vacant, like the great conventional armchairs of the French drama, that wait for Rachel to come and die.

Yet as I ride along this fashionable avenue in August, and watch the procession of the young and fair,—as I look at stately houses, from each of which has gone forth almost within my memory a funeral or a bride,—then every thoroughfare of human life becomes in fancy but an ocean shore, with its ripples and its wrecks. One learns, in growing older, that no fiction can be so strange nor appear so improbable as would the simple truth; and that doubtless even Shakespeare did but timidly transcribe a few of the deeds and passions he had personally known. For no man of middle age can dare trust himself to portray life in its full intensity, as he has studied or shared it; he must resolutely set aside as indescribable the things most worth describing, and must expect to be charged with exaggeration, even when he tells the rest.


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Chicago: Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "Prelude.," Malbone: An Oldport Romance, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Malbone: An Oldport Romance (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), Original Sources, accessed May 11, 2021,

MLA: Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. "Prelude." Malbone: An Oldport Romance, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Malbone: An Oldport Romance, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909, Original Sources. 11 May. 2021.

Harvard: Higginson, TW, 'Prelude.' in Malbone: An Oldport Romance, ed. . cited in 1909, Malbone: An Oldport Romance, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 11 May 2021, from