February 19, 2024

#08-837: The Great Stone Face

The Old Man of the Mountain, original of The Great Stone Face (Wikipedia)

Note: This is a story of inspiration, and how a boy spent his life looking for genius in all the wrong places.

Get Ready: What kind of person might inspire you to greatness: a millionaire: A general? A politician? A poet?

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the short story, "The Great Stone Face," in 1850 after visiting "The Old Man of the Mountain," a genuine geological feature in the state of New Hampshire. Sadly, the figure collapsed in 2003.

In the story, a boy named Ernest lives with his mother in a long valley. At the far end they can see, way up high, the profile of a man's face formed by natural rock. The locals call this "The Great Stone Face."

An old Indian legend says that sometime in the future a great man will be born in the valley, "who was destined to become the greatest and noblest personage of his time," and his face will look just like that of the Great Stone Face.

As Ernest grows, he develops the habit of sitting every evening in front of the cottage and gazing at the Face, which he perceives to be kind, and peaceful, and honest. This way of thinking helps him to develop these same qualities, although he is just a humble farmer.

While he is still a boy, news comes that a former resident of the valley is returning. He had become a wealthy man, and is called "Mr. Gathergold." Rumor says that he is the man with the face of the stone feature!

But when he arrives he is not kind, but miserly, despite his wealth. The other residents of the valley fool themselves into thinking he looks like the Great Stone Face, but Ernest knows better.

The same thing happens when Ernest is a young man. This time the returnee is a great general, Old Blood-and-Thunder. But Ernest can see that he lacks the serenity of the Stone Face's gaze.

And again when Ernest is older, a politician returns from living away from his native valley. "Old Stony Phiz" is running for president, and when he speaks, "wrong looked like right, and right like wrong." But Ernest sees he lacks the honesty of the Great Stone Face. ("Phiz" is a reference to "physiognomy," the appearance of one's face.)

At last Ernest grows old, and wise, and gentle. He reads books by another former valley resident, a famous poet, who hears of Ernest and comes to meet him. In the end, after they talk for some time, and the poet sees Ernest speaking the truth to his neighbors, the poet realizes: Ernest himself has come to look exactly like the Great Stone Face!


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. destined
  2. gazing
  3. genuine
  4. geological
  5. humble
  6. miserly
  7. personage
  8. profile
  9. rumor
  10. serenity
  1. certain to become
  2. lowly; simple
  3. an uncertain story passed from person to person
  4. staring
  5. the side view of a face
  6. cheap; stingy
  7. of the earth
  8. an important person
  9. peacefulness
  10. real; authentic

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 22, 2024

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