Nothing in human intercourse, I think, has a more peculiar and unchanging value than the mutual impressions of young men at college: they meet at a moment when the full meaning of life just begins to unfold itself to them, and their fresh imaginations build upon two or three traits the whole character of a comrade, where a maturer man weighs and waits, doubts and trusts, and ends after all with a like or dislike that is only lukewarm. Far on toward the close of life, Hawthorne, in speaking of something told him by an English gentleman respecting a former classmate of the latter's, wrote: "It seemed to be one of those early impressions which a collegian gets of his fellow-students, and which he never gets rid of, whatever the character of the person may turn out to be in after years. I have judged several persons in this way, and still judge them so, though the world has come to very different opinions. Which is right,—the world, which has the man's whole mature life on its side; or his early companion, who has nothing for it but some idle passages of his youth?" The world, doubtless, measures more accurately the intrinsic worth of the man's mature actions; but his essential characteristics, creditable or otherwise, are very likely to be better understood by his classmates. In this, then, we perceive one of the formative effects on Hawthorne's mind of his stay at Brunswick. Those four years of student life gave him a thousand eyes for observing and analyzing character. He learned then, also, to choose men on principles of his own. Always afterward he was singularly independent in selecting friends; often finding them even in unpopular and out-of-the-way persons. The affinity between himself and Bridge was ratified by forty years of close confidence; and Hawthorne never swerved from his early loyalty to Pierce, though his faithfulness gave him severe trials, both public and private, afterward. I am not of those who explain this steadfastness by a theory of early prepossession on Hawthorne's part, blinding him to Pierce's errors or defects. There is ample proof in the correspondence between Bridge and himself, which I have seen, that he constantly and closely scanned his distinguished friend the President's character with his impartial and searching eye for human character, whatsoever its relations to himself. I believe if he had ever found that the original nucleus of honor and of a certain candor which had charmed him in Pierce was gone, he would, provided it seemed his duty, have rejected the friendship. As it was, he saw his old friend and comrade undergoing changes which he himself thought hazardous, saw him criticised in a post where no one ever escaped the severest criticism, and beheld him return to private life amid unpopularity, founded, as he thought, upon misinterpretation of what was perhaps error, but not dishonesty. Meanwhile he felt that the old "Frank," his brother through Alma Mater, dwelt still within the person of the public man; and though to claim that brotherhood exposed Hawthorne, under the circumstances, to cruel and vulgar insinuations, he saw that duty led him to the side of his friend, not to that of the harsh multitude.
Perhaps his very earliest contribution to light literature was an apocryphal article which he is said to have written when about eighteen or nineteen. Just then there came into notice a voracious insect, gifted with peculiar powers against pear-trees. Knowing that his uncle was especially concerned in fruit culture, Hawthorne wrote, and sent from college to a Boston paper, a careful description of the new destroyer, his habits, and the proper mode of combating him, all drawn from his own imagination. It was printed, so the tale runs; and a package of the papers containing it arrived in Salem just as the author reached there for a brief vacation. Mr. Manning is said to have accepted in good faith the knowledge which the article supplied, but Hawthorne's amusement was not unmixed with consternation at the success of his first essay.
In the two or three letters from him at college which still survive, there is no open avowal of the inner life, which was then the supplier of events for his outwardly monotonous days; not a breath of that strain of revery and fancy which impressed Bridge's mind! One allusion shows that he systematically omitted declamation; and an old term bill of 1824 (the last year of his course) charges him with a fine of twenty cents for neglect of theme! Spur to authorship:—the Faculty surely did its best to develop his genius, and cannot be blamed for any shortcomings. [Footnote: The amount of this bill, for the term ending May 21, 1824, is but $19.62, of which $2.36 is made up of fines. The figures give a backward glimpse at the epoch of cheap living, but show that the disinclination of students to comply with college rules was even then expensive. The "average of damages" is only thirty-three cents, from which I infer that the class was not a destructive one.] Logically, these tendencies away from essay and oratory are alien to minds destined to produce literature; but empirically, they are otherwise. Meantime, we get a sudden light on some of the solid points of character, apart from genius, in this note from the college president, and the student's parallel epistles.
May 29, 1822.
MRS. ELIZABETH C. HATHORNE.
MADAM:——By note of the Executive Government of this college, it is made my duty to request your co-operation with us in the attempt to induce your son faithfully to observe the laws of this institution. He was this day fined fifty cents for playing cards for money, last term. He played at different times. Perhaps he might not have gained, were it not for the influence of a student whom we have dismissed from college. It does not appear that your son has very recently played cards; yet your advice may be beneficial to him. I am, madam,
Your obedient, humble servant,
WILLIAM ALLEN, President.
The next day after this note was written (on May 30, 1822) the subject of it wrote thus:—
"MY DEAR MOTHER:—I hope you have safely arrived in Salem. I have nothing particular to inform you of, except that all the card-players in college have been found out, and my unfortunate self among the number. One has been dismissed from college, two suspended, and the rest, with myself, have been fined fifty cents each. I believe the President intends to write to the friends of all the delinquents. Should that be the case, you must show the letter to nobody. If I am again detected, I shall have the honor of being suspended; when the President asked what we played for, I thought it proper to inform him it was fifty cents, although it happened to be a quart of wine; but if I had told him of that, he would probably have fined me for having a blow. [It appears that the mild dissipation of wine-drinking in vogue at Bowdoin at that time was called having a "blow;" probably an abbreviation for the common term "blow-out," applied to entertainments.] There was no untruth in the case, as the wine cost fifty cents. I have not played at all this term. I have not drank any kind of spirits or wine this term, and shall not till the last week."
But in a letter to one of his sisters (dated August 5, 1822) a few months afterward, he touches the matter much more vigorously:—
"To quiet your suspicions, I can assure you that I am neither 'dead, absconded, or anything worse.' [The allusion is to some reproach for a long silence on his part.] I have involved myself in no 'foolish scrape,' as you say all my friends suppose; but ever since my misfortune I have been as steady as a sign-post, and as sober as a deacon, have been in no 'blows' this term, nor drank any kind of 'wine or strong drink.' So that your comparison of me to the 'prodigious son' will hold good in nothing, except that I shall probably return penniless, for I have had no money this six weeks.... The President's message is not so severe as I expected. I perceive that he thinks I have been led away by the wicked ones, in which, however, he is greatly mistaken. I was full as willing to play as the person he suspects of having enticed me, and would have been influenced by no one. I have a great mind to commence playing again, merely to show him that I scorn to be seduced by another into anything wrong."
I cannot but emphasize with my own words the manly, clear-headed attitude of the young student in these remarks. He has evidently made up his mind to test the value of card-playing for wine, and thinks himself—as his will be the injury, if any—the best judge of the wisdom of that experiment. A weaker spirit, too, a person who knew himself less thoroughly, would have taken shelter under the President's charitable theory with thanksgiving; but Hawthorne's perfectly simple moral sense and ingrained manhood would not let him forget that self-respect lives by truth alone. In this same letter he touches lesser affairs:—
"I have not read the two novels you mention. I began some time ago to read Hume's 'History of England,' but found it so abominably dull that I have given up the undertaking until some future time. I can procure books of all sorts from the library of the Athenaean Society, of which I am a member. The library consists of about eight hundred volumes, among which is Rees's Cyclopaedia [this work was completed in 1819], and many other valuable works.... Our class will be examined on Tuesday for admittance to our Sophomore year. If any of us are found deficient, we shall be degraded to the Freshman class again; from which misfortune may Heaven defend me."
But the young Freshman's trepidation, if he really felt any, was soon soothed; he passed on successfully through his course. Not only did he graduate well, but he had also, as we shall see, begun to prepare himself for his career. Here is a letter which gives, in a fragmentary way, his mood at graduation:—
"BRUNSWICK, July 14, 1825.
"MY DEAR SISTER:—.... I am not very well pleased with Mr. Dike's report of me. The family had before conceived much too high an opinion of my talents, and had probably formed expectations which I shall never realize. I have thought much upon the subject, and have finally come to the conclusion that I shall never make a distinguished figure in the world, and all I hope or wish is to plod along with the multitude. I do not say this for the purpose of drawing any flattery from you, but merely to set mother and the rest of you right upon a point where your partiality has led you astray. I did hope that Uncle Robert's opinion of me was nearer to the truth, as his deportment toward me never expressed a very high estimation of my abilities."
Mr. Dike was a relative, who had probably gone back to Salem, after seeing the young man at Brunswick, with a eulogy on his lips. Hawthorne's modesty held too delicate a poise to bear a hint of praise, before he had yet been put to the test or accomplished anything decisive. In some ways this modesty and shyness may have postponed his success as an author; yet it was this same delicate admixture which precipitated and made perfect the mysterious solution in which his genius lay. The wish "to plod along with the multitude," seemingly unambitious, is only a veil. The hearts that burn most undyingly with hope of achievement in art, often throw off this vapor of discontent; they feel a prophetic thrill of that nameless suffering through which every seeker of truth must pass, and they long beforehand for rest, for the sweet obscurity of the ungifted.
Another part of this letter shows the writer's standing at college:—
"Did the President write to you about my part? He called me to his study, and informed me that, though my rank in the class entitled me to a part, yet it was contrary to the law to give me one, on account of my neglect of declamation. As he inquired mother's name and residence, I suppose that he intended to write to her on the subject. If so, you will send me a copy of the letter. I am perfectly satisfied with this arrangement, as it is a sufficient testimonial to my scholarship, while it saves me the mortification of making my appearance in public at Commencement. Perhaps the family may not be so much pleased by it. Tell me what are their sentiments on the subject.
"I shall return home in three weeks from next Wednesday."
Here the dim record of his collegiate days ceases, leaving him on the threshold of the world, a fair scholar, a budding genius, strong, young, and true, yet hesitant; halting for years, as if gathering all his shy-souled courage, before entering that arena that was to echo such long applause of him. Yet doubt not that the purpose to do some great thing was already a part of his life, together with that longing for recognition which every young poet, in the sweet uncertain certainty of beginning, feels that he must some day deserve. Were not these words, which I find in "Fanshawe," drawn from the author's knowledge of his own heart?
"He called up the years that, even at his early age, he had spent in solitary study,—in conversation with the dead,—while he had scorned to mingle with the living world, or to be actuated by any of its motives. Fanshawe had hitherto deemed himself unconnected with the world, unconcerned in its feelings, and uninfluenced by it in any of his pursuits. In this respect he probably deceived himself. If his inmost heart could have been laid open, there would have been discovered that dream of undying fame, which, dream as it is, is more powerful than a thousand realities."
Already, while at Bowdoin, Hawthorne had begun to write verses, and perhaps to print some of them anonymously in the newspapers. From some forgotten poem of his on the sea, a single stanza has drifted down to us, like a bit of beach-wood, the relic of a bark too frail to last. It is this:—
"The ocean hath its silent caves, Deep, quiet, and alone; Though there be fury on the waves, Beneath them there is none."
If one lets the lines ring in his ears a little, the true Hawthornesque murmur and half-mournful cadence become clear. I am told, by the way, that when the Atlantic cable was to be laid, some one quoted this to a near relative of the writer's, not remembering the name of the author, but thinking it conclusive proof that the ocean depths would receive the cable securely. Another piece is preserved complete, and much more nearly does the writer justice:—
"We are beneath the dark blue sky, And the moon is shining bright; O, what can lift the soul so high As the glow of a summer night; When all the gay are hushed to sleep And they that mourn forget to weep, Beneath that gentle light!
"Is there no holier, happier land Among those distant spheres, Where we may meet that shadow band, The dead of other years? Where all the day the moonbeams rest, And where at length the souls are blest Of those who dwell in tears?
"O, if the happy ever leave The bowers of bliss on high, To cheer the hearts of those that grieve, And wipe the tear-drop dry; It is when moonlight sheds its ray, More pure and beautiful than day, And earth is like the sky."
At a time when the taste and manner of Pope in poetry still held such strong rule over readers as it did in the first quarter of the century, these simple stanzas would not have been unworthy of praise for a certain independence; but there is something besides in the refined touch and the plaintive undertone that belong to Hawthorne's individuality. This gentle and musical poem, it is curious to remember, was written at the very period when Longfellow was singing his first fresh carols, full of a vigorous pleasure in the beauty and inspiration of nature, with a rising and a dying fall for April and Autumn, and the Winter Woods. One can easily fancy that in these two lines from "Sunrise on the Hills":—
"Where, answering to the sudden shot, thin smoke Through thick-leaved branches from the dingle broke,"
it was the fire of Hawthorne's fowling-piece in the woods that attracted the young poet, from his lookout above. But Longfellow had felt in the rhythm of these earliest poems the tide-flow of his future, and Hawthorne had as yet hardly found his appropriate element.
In 1828, however, three years after graduating, he published an anonymous prose romance called "Fanshawe," much more nearly approaching a novel than his later books. It was issued at Boston, by Marsh and Capen; but so successful was Hawthorne in his attempt to exterminate the edition, that not half a dozen copies are now known to be extant. We have seen that he read and admired Godwin and Scott, as a boy. "Kenilworth," "The Pirate," "The Fortunes of Nigel," "Peveril of the Peak," "Quentin Durward," and others of Scott's novel; had appeared while Hawthorne was at Bowdoin; and the author of "Waverley" had become the autocrat of fiction. In addition to this, there is an inbred analogy between New England and Scotland. In the history and character of the people of each country are seen the influence of Calvin, and of a common-school system. Popular education was ingrafted upon the policy of both states at about the same period, and in both it has had the same result, making of the farming-class a body of energetic, thrifty, intelligent, and aspiring people. Scotland and New England alike owe some of their best as well as their least attractive traits to bitter climate and a parsimonious soil; and the rural population of either is pushed into emigration by the scanty harvests at home. It is not a little singular that the Yankee and the canny Scot should each stand as a butt for the wit of his neighbors, while each has a shrewdness all his own. The Scotch, it is true, are said to be unusually impervious to a joke, while our Down-Easters are perhaps the most recondite and many-sided of American humorists. And, though many of the conditions of the two regions are alike, the temperaments of the two races are of course largely dissimilar. The most salient distinction, perhaps, is that of the Scotch being a musical and dancing nation; something from which the New-Englanders are fatally far removed. As if to link him with his Puritan ancestry and stamp him beyond mistake as a Pilgrim and not a Covenanter, Hawthorne was by nature formed with little ear for music. It seems strange that a man who could inform the verses on "Moonlight," just quoted, with so delicate a melody, and never admitted an ill-timed strain or jarring cadence into his pure, symphonious prose, should scarcely be able to distinguish one tune from another. Yet such was the case. But this was owing merely to the absence of the musical instinct. He would listen with rapture to the unaccompanied voice; and I have been always much touched by a little incident recorded in the "English Note-Books": "There is a woman who has several times passed through this Hanover Street in which we live, stopping occasionally to sing songs under the windows; and last evening ... she came and sang 'Kathleen O'Moore' richly and sweetly. Her voice rose up out of the dim, chill street, and made our hearts throb in unison with it as we sat in our comfortable drawing-room. I never heard a voice that touched me more deeply. Somebody told her to go away, and she stopped like a nightingale suddenly shot." Hawthorne goes on to speak with wonder of the waste of such a voice, "making even an unsusceptible heart vibrate like a harp-string"; and it is pleasant to know that Mrs. Hawthorne had the woman called within, from the street. So that his soul was open to sound. But the unmusicalness of New England, less marked now than formerly, is only a symbol, perhaps,—grievous that it should be so!—of the superior temperance of our race. For, by one of those strange oversights that human nature is guilty of, Scotland, in opening the door for song and dance and all the merry crew of mirth, seems to admit quite freely two vagabonds that have no business there, Squalor and Drunkenness. Yet notwithstanding this grave unlikeness between the two peoples, Hawthorne seems to have found a connecting clew, albeit unwittingly, when he remarked, as he did, on his first visit to Glasgow, that in spite of the poorer classes there excelling even those of Liverpool in filth and drunkenness, "they are a better looking people than the English (and this is true of all classes), more intelligent of aspect, with more regular, features." There is certainly one quality linking the two nations together which has not yet been commented on, in relation to Hawthorne; and this is the natural growth of the weird in the popular mind, both here and in Scotland. It is not needful to enter into this at all at length. In the chapter on Salem I have suggested some of the immediate factors of the weird element in Hawthorne's fiction; but it deserves remark that only Scott and Hawthorne, besides George Sand, among modern novelists, have used the supernatural with real skill and force; and Hawthorne has certainly infused it into his work by a more subtle and sympathetic gift than even the magic-loving Scotch romancer owned. After this digressive prelude, the reader will be ready to hear me announce that "Fanshawe" was a faint reflection from the young Salem recluse's mind of certain rays thrown across the Atlantic from Abbotsford. But this needs qualification.
Hawthorne indeed admired Scott, when a youth; and after he had returned from abroad, in 1860, he fulfilled a tender purpose, formed on a visit to Abbotsford, of re-reading all the Waverley novels. Yet he had long before arrived at a ripe, unprejudiced judgment concerning him. The exact impression of his feeling appears in that delightfully humorous whimsey, "P.'s Correspondence," which contains the essence of the best criticism. [Footnote: See Mosses from an Old Manse, Vol. II.] In allusion to Abbotsford, Scott, he says, "whether in verse, prose, or architecture, could achieve but one thing, although that one in infinite variety." And he adds: "For my part, I can hardly regret that Sir Walter Scott had lost his consciousness of outward things before his works went out of vogue. It was good that he should forget his fame, rather than that fame should first have forgotten him. Were he still a writer, and as brilliant a one as ever, he could no longer maintain anything like the same position in literature. The world, nowadays, requires a more earnest purpose, a deeper moral, and a closer and homelier truth than he was qualified to supply it with. Yet who can be to the present generation even what Scott has been to the past?" Now, in "Fanshawe" there is something that reminds one of Sir Walter; but the very resemblance makes the essential unlikeness more apparent.
The scene of the tale is laid at Harley College, "in an ancient, though not very populous settlement in a retired corner of one of the New England States." This, no doubt, is a reproduction of Bowdoin. Mr. Longfellow tells me that the descriptions of the seminary and of the country around it strongly suggest the Brunswick College. The President of Harley is a Dr. Melmoth, an amiable and simple old delver in learning, in a general way recalling Dominie Sampson, whose vigorous spouse rules him somewhat severely: their little bickerings supply a strain of farce indigenous to Scott's fictions, but quite unlike anything in Hawthorne's later work. A young lady, named Ellen Langton, daughter of an old friend of Dr. Melmoth's, is sent to Harley, to stay under his guardianship. Ellen is somewhat vaguely sketched, in the style of Scott's heroines; but this sentence ends with a trace of the young writer's quality: "If pen could give an adequate idea of Ellen Langton's beauty, it would achieve what pencil ... never could; for though the dark eyes might be painted, the pure and pleasant thoughts that peeped through them could only be seen and felt." This maiden the doctor once took into his study, to begin a course of modern languages with her; but she "having discovered an old romance among his heavy folios, contrived by the sweet charm of her voice to engage his attention," and quite beguiled him from severer studies. Naturally, she inthralls two young students at the college: one of whom is Edward Wolcott, a wealthy, handsome, generous, healthy young fellow from one of the seaport towns; and the other, Fanshawe, the hero, who is a poor but ambitious recluse, already passing into a decline through overmuch devotion to books and meditation. Fanshawe, though the deeper nature of the two, and intensely moved by his new passion, perceiving that a union between himself and Ellen could not be a happy one, resigns the hope of it from the beginning. But circumstances bring him into intimate relation with her. The real action of the book, after the preliminaries, takes up only some three days, and turns upon the attempt of a man named Butler to entice Ellen away under his protection, then marry her, and secure the fortune to which she is heiress. This scheme is partly frustrated by circumstances, and Butler's purpose towards Ellen then becomes a much more sinister one. From this she is rescued by Fanshawe; and, knowing that he loves her, but is concealing his passion, she gives him the opportunity and the right to claim her hand. For a moment, the rush of desire and hope is so great that he hesitates; then he refuses to take advantage of her generosity, and parts with her for the last time. Ellen becomes engaged to Wolcott, who had won her heart from the first; and Fanshawe, sinking into rapid consumption, dies before his class graduates. It is easy to see how the sources of emotion thus opened attracted Hawthorne. The noble and refined nature of Fanshawe, and the mingled craftiness, remorse, and ferocity of Butler, are crude embodiments of the same characteristics which he afterward treated in modified forms. They are the two poles, the extremes,—both of them remote and chilly,—of good and evil, from which the writer withdrew, after exploring them, into more temperate regions. The movement of these persons is visionary, and their personality faint. But I have marked a few characteristic portions of the book which suggest its tone.
When the young lady's flight with the stranger actually takes place, young Wolcott and President Melmoth ride together in the pursuit, and at this point there occurs a dialogue which is certainly as laughable and is better condensed than most similar passages in Scott, whom it strongly recalls. A hint of Cervantes appears in it, too, which makes it not out of place to mention that Hawthorne studied "Don Quixote" in the original, soon after leaving college.
* * * * *
"'Alas, youth! these are strange times,' observed the President, 'when a doctor of divinity and an undergraduate set forth like a knight-errant and his squire, in search of a stray damsel. Methinks I am an epitome of the church militant, or a new species of polemical divinity. Pray Heaven, however, there he no encounter in store for us; for I utterly forgot to provide myself with weapons.'
"'I took some thought for that matter, reverend knight,' replied Edward, whose imagination was highly tickled by Dr. Melmoth's chivalrous comparison.
"'Ay, I see that you have girded on a sword,' said the divine. 'But wherewith shall I defend myself?—my hand being empty except of this golden-headed staff, the gift of Mr. Langton.'
"'One of those, if you will accept it,' answered Edward, exhibiting a brace of pistols, 'will serve to begin the conflict, before you join the battle hand to hand.'
"'Nay, I shall find little safety in meddling with that deadly instrument, since I know not accurately from which end proceeds the bullet,' said Dr. Melmoth. 'But were it not better, seeing we are so well provided with artillery, to betake ourselves, in the event of an encounter, to some stone-wall or other place of strength?'
"'If I may presume to advise,' said the squire, 'you, as being most valiant and experienced, should ride forward, lance in hand (your long staff serving for a lance), while I annoy the enemy from afar.'
"'Like Teucer behind the shield of Ajax,' interrupted Dr. Melmoth, 'or David with his stone and sling. No, no, young man; I have left unfinished in my study a learned treatise, important not only to the present age, but to posterity, for whose sakes I must take heed to my safety. But lo! who rides yonder?'"
* * * * *
In one place only does the author give full rein to his tragic power; but this is a vigorous burst, and remarkable also for its sure and trenchant analysis. During his escape with Ellen, Butler is moved to stop at a lonely hut inhabited by his mother, where he finds her dying; and, torn by the sight of her suffering while she raves and yearns for his presence, he makes himself known to her.
* * * * *
"At that unforgotten voice, the darkness burst away at once from her soul. She arose in bed, her eyes and her whole countenance beaming with joy, and threw her arms about his neck. A multitude of words seem struggling for utterance; but they gave place to a low moaning sound, and then to the silence of death. The one moment of happiness, that recompensed years of sorrow, had been her last.... As he [Butler] looked, the expression of enthusiastic joy that parting life had left upon the features faded gradually away, and the countenance, though no longer wild, assumed the sadness which it had worn through a long course of grief and pain. On beholding this natural consequence of death, the thought perhaps occurred to him that her soul, no longer dependent on the imperfect means of intercourse possessed by mortals, had communed with his own, and become acquainted with all its guilt and misery. He started from the bedside and covered his face with his hands, as if to hide it from those dead eyes.... But his deep repentance for the misery he had brought upon his parent did not produce in him a resolution to do wrong no more. The sudden consciousness of accumulated guilt made him desperate. He felt as if no one had thenceforth a claim to justice or compassion at his hands, when his neglect and cruelty had poisoned his mother's life, and hastened her death."
* * * * *
What separates this story from the rest of Hawthorne's works is an intricate plot, with passages of open humor, and a rather melodramatic tone in the conclusion. These are the result in part of the prevalent fashion of romance, and in part of a desire to produce effects not quite consonant with his native bent. The choice of the title, "Fanshawe," too, seems to show a deference to the then prevalent taste for brief and quaint-sounding names; and the motto, "Wilt thou go on with me?" from Southey, placed on his title-page, together with quotations at the heads of chapters, belongs to a past fashion. Fanshawe and Butler are powerful conceptions, but they are so purely embodiments of passion as to assume an air of unreality. Butler is like an evil wraith, and Fanshawe is as evanescent as a sad cloud in the sky, touched with the first pale light of morning. Fanshawe, with his pure heart and high resolves, represents that constant aspiration toward lofty moral truth which marked Hawthorne's own mind, and Butler is a crude example of the sinful spirit which he afterward analyzed under many forms. The verbal style has few marks of the maturer mould afterward impressed on it, except that there is the preference always noticeable in Hawthorne for Latin wording. Two or three phrases, however, show all the limpidness and ease for which he gained fame subsequently. For instance, when Fanshawe is first surprised by his love for Ellen, he returns to his room to study: "The books were around him which had hitherto been to him like those fabled volumes of magic, from which the reader could not turn away his eye, till death were the consequence of his studies." This, too, is a pretty description of Ellen: "Terror had at first blanched her as white as a lily.... Shame next bore sway; and her blushing countenance, covered by her slender white fingers, might fantastically be compared to a variegated rose, with its alternate stripes of white and red." Its restraint is perhaps the most remarkable trait of the novel; for though this comes of timidity, it shows that Hawthorne, whether this be to his advantage or not, was not of the order of young genius which begins with tumid and excessive exhibition of power. His early acquaintance with books, breeding a respect for literary form, his shy, considerate modes of dealing with any intellectual problem or question requiring judgment, and the formal taste of the period in letters, probably conspired to this end.
TWILIGHT OF THE TWICE-TOLD TALES.
We have now reached the point where the concealed foundations of Hawthorne's life terminate, and the final structure begins to appear above the surface, like the topmost portion of a coral island slowly rising from the depths of a solitary ocean.
When he left college, his friends Cilley and Pierce entered into law, the gateway to politics; Bridge returned to his father's estate at Bridgton, to engage later in a large enterprise there; and other classmates took up various activities in the midst of other men; but for Hawthorne no very clear path presented itself. Literature had not yet attained, in the United States, the rank of a distinct and powerful profession. Fifteen years before, Brockden Brown had died prematurely after a hapless struggle, worn out with overwork,—the first man who had undertaken to live by writing in this country since its colonization. "The North American Review," indeed, in Boston, was laying the corner-stone of a vigorous periodical literature; and in this year of 1825 William Cullen Bryant had gone to New York to edit "The New York Review," after publishing at Cambridge his first volume of poetry, "The Ages." Irving was an author of recent but established fame, who was drawing chiefly from the rich supplies of European manners, legend, and history; while Cooper, in his pleasant Pioneer-land beside Otsego Lake, had begun to make clear his claim to a wide domain of native and national fiction. But to a young man of reserved temper, having few or no friends directly connected with publication, and living in a sombre, old-fashioned town, isolated as all like towns were before the era of railroads, the avenue to publicity and a definite literary career was dark and devious enough.
I suppose it was after his venture of "Fanshawe," that he set about the composition of some shorter stories which he called "Seven Tales of my Native Land." [Footnote: The motto prefixed to these was, "We are seven."] His sister, to whom he read these, has told me that they were very beautiful, but no definite recollection of them remains to her, except that some of them related to witchcraft, and some to the sea, being stories of pirates and privateers. In one of these latter were certain verses, beginning,—
"The pirates of the sea, they were a fearful race."
Hawthorne has described in "The Devil in Manuscript," while depicting a young author about to destroy his manuscript, his own vexations in trying to find a publisher for these attempts. "They have been offered to some seventeen booksellers. It would make you stare to read their answers.... One man publishes nothing but school-books; another has five novels already under examination; ... another gentleman is just giving up business on purpose, I verily believe, to escape publishing my book.... In short, of all the seventeen booksellers, only one has vouchsafed even to read my tales; and he—a literary dabbler himself, I should judge—has the impertinence to criticise them, proposing what he calls vast improvements, and concluding ... that he will not be concerned on any terms.... But there does seem to be one honest man among these seventeen unrighteous ones; and he tells me fairly that no American publisher will meddle with an American work, seldom if by a known writer, and never if by a new one, unless at the writer's risk." He indeed had the most discouraging sort of search for a publisher; but at last a young printer of Salem promised to undertake the work. His name was Ferdinand Andrews; and he was at one time half-owner with Caleb Cushing of an establishment from which they issued "The Salem Gazette," in 1822, the same journal in which Hawthorne published various papers at a later date, when Mr. Caleb Foote was its editor. Andrews was ambitious, and evidently appreciative of his young townsman's genius; but he delayed issuing the "Seven Tales" so long that the author, exasperated, recalled the manuscript. Andrews, waiting only for better business prospects, was loath to let them go; but Hawthorne insisted, and at last the publisher sent word, "Mr. Hawthorne's manuscript awaits his orders." The writer received it and burned it, to the chagrin of Andrews, who had hoped to bring out many works by the same hand.
This, at the time, must have been an incident of incalculable and depressing importance to Hawthorne, and the intense emotion it caused may be guessed from the utterances of the young writer in the sketch just alluded to, though he has there veiled the affair in a light film of sarcasm. The hero of that scene is called Oberon, one of the feigned names which Hawthorne himself used at times in contributing to periodicals. "'What is more potent than fire!' said he, in his gloomiest tone. 'Even thought, invisible and incorporeal as it is, cannot escape it.... All that I had accomplished, all that I planned for future years, has perished by one common ruin, and left only this heap of embers! The deed has been my fate. And what remains? A weary and aimless life; a long repentance of this hour; and at last an obscure grave, where they will bury and forget me!'" There is also an allusion to the tales founded on witchcraft: "I could believe, if I chose," says Oberon, "that there is a devil in this pile of blotted papers. You have read them, and know what I mean,—that conception in which I endeavored to embody the character of a fiend, as represented in our traditions and the written records of witchcraft. O, I have a horror of what was created in my own brain, and shudder at the manuscripts in which I gave that dark idea a sort of material existence!' You remember how the hellish thing used to suck away the happiness of those who ... subjected themselves to his power." This is curious, as showing the point from which Hawthorne had resolved to treat the theme. He had instinctively perceived that the only way to make the witchcraft delusion available in fiction was to accept the witch as a fact, an actual being, and expend his art upon developing the abnormal character; while other writers, who have attempted to use the subject for romantic ends, have uniformly taken the historical view, and sought to extract their pathos from the effect of the delusion on innocent persons. The historical view is that of intelligent criticism; but Hawthorne's effort was the harbinger and token of an original imagination.
After the publication of "Fanshawe" and the destruction of his "Seven Tales," Hawthorne found himself advanced not so much as by a single footstep on the road to fame. "Fame!" he exclaims, in meditation; "some very humble persons in a town may be said to possess it,—as the penny-post, the town-crier, the constable,—and they are known to everybody; while many richer, more intellectual, worthier persons are unknown by the majority of their fellow-citizens." But the fame that he desired was, I think, only that which is the recognition by the public that a man is on the way to truth. An outside acknowledgment of this is invaluable even to the least vain of authors, because it assures him that, in following his own inner impulse through every doubt and discouragement, he has not been pursuing a chimera, and gives him new heart for the highest enterprises of which he is capable. To attain this, amid the peculiar surroundings of his life, was difficult enough. At that time, Salem society was more peculiarly constituted than it has been in later years. A strong circle of wealthy families maintained rigorously the distinctions of class; their entertainments were splendid, their manners magnificent, and the fame of the beautiful women born amongst them has been confirmed by a long succession reaching into the present day. They prescribed certain fashions, customs, punctilios, to disregard which was social exile for the offending party; and they were divided even among themselves, I am told, by the most inveterate jealousies. It is said that certain people would almost have endured the thumb-screw rather than meet and speak to others. There seems to be good authority for believing that Hawthorne could have entered this circle, had he so chosen. He had relatives who took an active part within it; and it appears that there was a disposition among some of the fashionable coterie to show him particular favor, and that advances were made by them with the wish to draw him out. But one can conceive that it would not be acceptable to him to meet them on any but terms of entire equality. The want of ample supplies of money, which was one of the results of the fallen fortunes of his family, made this impossible; those who held sway were of older date in the place than some of the Hawthornes, and, like many another long-established stock, they had a conviction that, whatever their outward circumstances might be, a certain intrinsic superiority remained theirs. They were, like the lady of Hawthorne blood mentioned in the "American Note-Books," "proud of being proud." The Hawthornes, it was said, were as unlike other people as the Jews were to Gentiles; and the deep-rooted reserve which enveloped Hawthorne himself was a distinct family trait. So that, feeling himself to be in an unfair position, he doubtless found in these facts enough to cause him acute irritation of that sort which only very young or very proud and shrinking men can know. Besides this, the altered circumstances of his line, and his years in Maine, had brought him acquainted with humbler phases of life, and had doubtless developed in him a sympathy with simpler and less lofty people than these magnates. His father had been a Democrat, and loyalty to his memory, as well as the very pride just spoken of, conspired to lead him to that unpopular side. This set up another barrier between himself and the rich and powerful Whigs, for political feeling was almost inconceivably more bitter then than now. Thus there arose within him an unquiet, ill-defined, comfortless antipathy that must have tortured him with wearisome distress; and certainly shut him out from the sympathy and appreciation which, if all the conditions had been different, might have been given him by sincere and competent admirers. So little known among his own townsfolk, it is not to be wondered at that no encouraging answer reached him from more distant communities.
In his own home there was the faith which only love can give, but outside of it a chill drove his hopes and ardors back upon himself and turned them into despairs. His relatives, having seen him educated by the aid of his uncle, and now arrived at maturity, expected him to take his share in practical affairs. But the very means adopted to train him for a career had settled his choice of one in a direction perhaps not wholly expected; all cares and gains of ordinary traffic seemed sordid and alien to him. Yet a young man just beginning his career, with no solid proof of his own ability acquired, cannot but be sensitive to criticism from those who have gained a right to comment by their own special successes. As he watched these slow and dreary years pass by, from his graduation in 1825 to the time when he first came fully before the public in 1837, he must often have been dragged down by terrible fears that perhaps the fairest period of life was being wasted, losing forever the chance of fruition. "I sat down by the wayside of life," he wrote, long after, "like a man under enchantment, and a shrubbery sprang up around me, and the bushes grew to be saplings, and the saplings became trees, until no exit appeared possible, through the entangling depths of my obscurity." Judge in what a silence and solitary self-communing the time must have passed, to leave a thought like this: "To think, as the sun goes down, what events have happened in the course of the day,—events of ordinary occurrence; as, the clocks have struck, the dead have been buried." Or this: "A recluse like myself, or a prisoner, to measure time by the progress of sunshine through his chamber." His Note-Books show how the sense of unreality vexed and pursued him; and how the sadness and solemnity of life returned upon him again and again; and how he clothed these dark visitants of his brain with the colors of imagination, and turned them away from him in the guise of miraculous fantasies. He talks with himself of writing "the journal of a human heart for a single day, in ordinary circumstances. The lights and shadows that flit across it, its internal vicissitudes." But this is almost precisely what his printed Note-Books have revealed to us. Only now and then do we get precisely the thought that is passing through his mind at the moment; it more often throws upon the page a reflected image,—some strange and subtle hint for a story, the germs of delicate fabrics long afterward matured, some merry or sad conceit, some tender yet piercing inference,—like the shadows of clouds passing quickly across a clear sky, and casting momentary glooms, and glances of light, on the ground below. These journals do not begin until a date seven years after "Fanshawe" was published; but it is safe to assume that they mirror pretty closely the general complexion of the intervening years.
His mode of life during this period was fitted to nurture his imagination, but must have put the endurance of his nerves to the severest test. The statement that for several years "he never saw the sun," is entirely an error; but it is true that he seldom chose to walk in the town except at night, and it is said that he was extremely fond of going to fires if they occurred after dark. In summer he was up shortly after sunrise, and would go down to bathe in the sea. The morning was chiefly given to study, the afternoon to writing, and in the evening he would take long walks, exploring the coast from Gloucester to Marblehead and Lynn,—a range of many miles. Or perhaps he would pace the streets of the town, unseen but observing, gathering material for something in the vein of his delicious "Night Sketches." "After a time," he writes, "the visions vanish, and will not appear again at my bidding. Then, it being nightfall, a gloomy sense of unreality depresses my spirits, and impels me to venture out before the clock shall strike bedtime, to satisfy myself that the world is not made of such shadowy materials as have busied me throughout the day. A dreamer may dwell so long among fantasies, that the things without him will seem as unreal as those within." Or, if he chose a later hour, he might go abroad to people the deserted thoroughfares with wilder phantoms. Sometimes he took the day for his rambles, wandering perhaps over Endicott's ancient Orchard Farm and among the antique houses and grassy cellars of old Salem village, the witchcraft ground; or losing himself among the pines of Montserrat and in the silence of the Great Pastures, or strolling along the beaches to talk with old sailors and fishermen. His tramps along the Manchester and Beverly shores or from Marblehead to Nahant were productive of such delicate tracings as "Footprints by the Sea-shore," or the dream-autobiography of "The Village Uncle." "Grudge me not the day," he says, in the former sketch, "that has been spent in seclusion, which yet was not solitude, since the great sea has been my companion, and the little sea-birds my friends, and the wind has told me his secrets, and airy shapes have flitted around my hermitage. Such companionship works an effect upon a man's character, as if he had been admitted to the society of creatures that are not mortal." This touches the inmost secret of those lonely, youthful years, which moulded the pure-hearted muser with ethereal, unsuspected fingers. Elsewhere, Hawthorne has given another glimpse into his interior life at this time: "This scene came into my fancy as I walked along a hilly road, on a starlight October evening; in the pure and bracing air I became all soul, and felt as if I could climb the sky, and run a race along the Milky Way. Here is another tale in which I wrapped myself during a dark and dreary night-ride in the month of March, till the rattling of the wheels and the voices of my companions seemed like faint sounds of a dream, and my visions a bright reality. That scribbled page describes shadows which I summoned to my bedside at midnight; they would not depart when I bade them; the gray dawn came, and found me wide awake and feverish, the victim of my own enchantments!" Susan, the imaginary wife in "The Village Uncle," is said to have had a prototype in the daughter of a Salem fisherman, whose wit and charm gave Hawthorne frequent amusement; and I suppose that not seldom he reaped delightful suggestions from his meetings with frank, unconscious, and individual people of tastes and life unlike his own. I have heard it told with a polite, self-satisfied scorn, that he was in the habit of visiting now and then a tavern patronized by 'longshore-men and nautical veterans, to listen to their talk. I can well believe it, for it is this sort of intercourse that a person of manly genius, with a republican fellow-feeling for the unrenowned, most covets. How well he gives the tone of these old sea-dogs, when he writes: "The blast will put in its word among their hoarse voices, and be understood by all of them!" It was this constant searching among the common types of men, and his ready sympathy with them, refined as it was hearty, that stored his mind with a variety of accurate impressions which afterward surprised observers, in a man of habits so retired.
His uncles, the Mannings, were connected with extensive stage-coach lines at this time, and Hawthorne seems to have used these as antennae to bring himself in contact with new and nutritive regions and people. A letter, probably written in 1830, which I do not feel at liberty to quote entire, tells something of a trip that he took with Samuel Manning through a part of Connecticut and the Connecticut valley. The extracts that follow give a glimpse of the fresh and alert interest he felt about everything; and I regard them as very important in showing the obverse of that impression of unhealthy solitude which has been so generally received from accounts of Hawthorne hitherto published.
"We did not leave New Haven till last Saturday ... and we were forced to halt for the night at Cheshire, a village about fifteen miles from New Haven. The next day being Sunday, we made a Sabbath day's journey of seventeen miles, and put up at Farmington. As we were wearied with rapid travelling, we found it impossible to attend divine service, which was (of course) very grievous to us both. In the evening, however, I went to a Bible class with a very polite and agreeable gentleman, whom I afterward discovered to be a strolling tailor of very questionable habits.... We are now at Deerfield (though I believe my letter is dated Greenfield) ... with our faces northward; nor shall I marvel much if your Uncle Sam pushes on to Canada, unless we should meet with two or three bad taverns in succession....
"I meet with many marvellous adventures. At New Haven I observed a gentleman staring at me with great earnestness, after which he went into the bar-room, I suppose to inquire who I might be. Finally, he came up to me and said that as I bore a striking resemblance to a family of Stanburys, he was induced to inquire if I was connected with them. I was sorry to be obliged to answer in the negative. At another place they took me for a lawyer in search of a place to settle, and strongly recommended their own village. Moreover, I heard some of the students at Yale College conjecturing that I was an Englishman, and to-day, as I was standing without my coat at the door of a tavern, a man came up to me, and asked me for some oats for his horse."
It was during this trip, I have small doubt, that he found the scenery, and perhaps the persons, for that pretty interlude, "The Seven Vagabonds." The story is placed not far from Stamford, and the conjurer in it says, "I am taking a trip northward, this warm weather, across the Connecticut first, and then up through Vermont, and may be into Canada before the fall." The narrator himself queries by what right he came among these wanderers, and furnishes himself an answer which suggests that side of his nature most apt to appear in these journeys: "The free mind that preferred its own folly to another's wisdom; the open spirit that found companions everywhere; above all, the restless impulse that had so often made me wretched in the midst of enjoyments: these were my claims to be of their society." "If there be a faculty," he also writes, "which I possess more perfectly than most men, it is that of throwing myself mentally into situations foreign to my own, and detecting with a cheerful eye the desirableness of each." There is also one letter of 1831, sent back during an expedition in New Hampshire, which supplies the genesis of another Twice-Told Tale, "The Canterbury Pilgrims."
"I walked to the Shaker village yesterday [he says], and was shown over the establishment, and dined there with a squire and a doctor, also of the world's people. On my arrival, the first thing I saw was a jolly old Shaker carrying an immense decanter of their superb cider; and as soon as I told him my business, he turned out a tumblerful and gave me. It was as much as a common head could clearly carry. Our dining-room was well furnished, the dinner excellent, and the table attended by a middle-aged Shaker lady, good looking and cheerful.... This establishment is immensely rich. Their land extends two or three miles along the road, and there are streets of great houses painted yellow and tipt with red.... On the whole, they lead a good and comfortable life, and, if it were not for their ridiculous ceremonies, a man could not do a wiser thing than to join them. Those whom I conversed with were intelligent, and appeared happy. I spoke to them about becoming a member of their society, but have come to no decision on that point.
"We have had a pleasant journey enough.... I make innumerable acquaintances, and sit down on the doorsteps with judges, generals, and all the potentates of the land, discoursing about the Salem murder [that of Mr. White], the cow-skinning of Isaac Hill, the price of hay, and the value of horse-flesh. The country is very uneven, and your Uncle Sam groans bitterly whenever we come to the foot of a low hill; though this ought to make me groan rather than him, as I have to get out and trudge every one of them."
The "Clippings with a Chisel" point to some further wanderings, to Martha's Vineyard; and an uncollected sketch reveals the fact that he had been to Niagara. It was probably then that he visited Ticonderoga; [Footnote: A brief sketch of the fortress is included in The Snow Image volume of the Works.] but not till some years later that he saw New York. With these exceptions, and a trip to Washington before going to Liverpool in 1853, every day of his life up to that date was passed within New England. In "The Toll-Gatherer's Day" one sees the young observer at work upon the details of an ordinary scene near home. The "small square edifice which stands between shore and shore in the midst of a long bridge," spanning an arm of the sea, refers undoubtedly to the bridge from Salem to Beverly. But how lightly his spirit hovers over the stream of actual life, scarcely touching it before springing up again, like a sea-bird on the crest of a wave! Nothing could be more accurate and polished than his descriptions and his presentation of the actual facts; but his fancy rises resilient from these to some dreamy, far-seeing perception or gentle moral inference. The visible human pageant is only of value to him as it suggests the viewless host of heavenly shapes that hang above it like an idealizing mirage. His attitude at this time recalls a suggestion of his own in "Sights from a Steeple": "The most desirable mode of existence might be that of a spiritualized Paul Pry, hovering invisible round man and woman, witnessing their deeds, searching into their hearts, borrowing brightness from their felicity, and shade from their sorrow, and retaining no emotion peculiar to himself." He had the longing which every creative mind must feel, to mix with other beings and share to the utmost the possibilities of human weal or woe, suppressing his own experience so far as to make himself a transparent medium for the emotions of mankind; but he still lacked a definite connection with the multifarious drama of human fellowship; he could not catch his cue and play his answering part, and therefore gave voice to a constantly murmurous, moralizing "aside." He delights to let the current of action flow around him and beside him; he warms his heart in it; but when he again withdraws by himself, it is with him as with the old toll-gatherer at close of day, "mingling reveries of Heaven with remembrances of earth, the whole procession of mortal travellers, all the dusty pilgrimage which he has witnessed, seems like a flitting show of phantoms for his thoughtful soul to muse upon."
"What would a man do," he asks himself, in his journal, "if he were compelled to live always in the sultry heat of society, and could never bathe himself in cool solitude?" As yet, this bracing influence of quietude, so essential to his well-being, fascinates him, and he cannot shake off its influence so far as to enter actively and for personal interests into any of the common pursuits even of the man who makes a business of literature. Yet nothing impresses him more than the fact that every one carries a solitude with him, wherever he goes, like a shadow. Twice, with an interval of three years between, this idea recurs in the form of a hint for romance. "Two lovers or other persons, on the most private business, to appoint a meeting in what they supposed to be a place of the utmost solitude, and to find it thronged with people." The idea implied is, that this would in fact be the completest privacy they could have wished. "The situation of a man in the midst of a crowd, yet as completely in the power of another, life and all, as if they two were in the deepest solitude." This contradiction between the apparent openness that must rule one's conduct among men, and the real secrecy that may coexist with it, even when one is most exposed to the gaze of others, excites in his mind a whole train of thought based on the falsity of appearances. If a man can be outwardly open and inwardly reserved in a good sense, he can be so in a bad sense; so, too, he may have the external air of great excellence and purity, while internally he is foul and unfaithful. This discovery strikes our perfectly sincere and true-hearted recluse with intense and endless horror. He tests it, by turning it innumerable ways, and imagining all sorts of situations in which such contradictions of appearance and reality might be illustrated. At one time, he conceives of a friend who should be true by day, and false at night. At another he suggests: "Our body to be possessed by two different spirits, so that half the visage shall express one mood, and the other half another." "A man living a wicked life in one place and simultaneously a virtuous and religious one in another." Then he perceives that this same uncertainty and contradiction affects the lightest and seemingly most harmless things in the world. "The world is so sad and solemn," he muses, "that things meant in jest are liable, by an overpowering influence, to become dreadful earnest." And then he applies this, as in the following: "A virtuous but giddy girl to attempt to play a trick on a man. He sees what she is about, and contrives matters so that she throws herself completely into his power, and is ruined,—all in jest." Likewise, the most desirable things, by this same law of contradiction, often prove the least satisfactory. Thus: "A person or family long desires some particular good. At last it comes in such profusion as to be the great pest of their lives." And this is equally true, he finds, whether the desired thing be sought in order to gratify a pure instinct or a wrong and revengeful one. "As an instance, merely, suppose a woman sues her lover for breach of promise, and gets the money by instalments, through a long series of years. At last, when the miserable victim were utterly trodden down, the triumpher would have become a very devil of evil passions,—they having overgrown his whole nature; so that a far greater evil would have come upon himself than on his victim." This theme of self-punished revenge, as we know, was afterward thoroughly wrought out in "The Scarlet Letter." Another form in which the thought of this pervading falsehood in earthly affairs comes to him is the frightful fancy of people being poisoned by communion-wine. Thus does the insincerity and corruption of man, the lie that is hidden in nearly every life and almost every act, rise and thrust itself before him, whichever way he turns, like a serpent in his path. He is in the position of the father confessor of whom he at one time thinks, and of "his reflections on character, and the contrast of the inward man with the outward, as he looks around his congregation, all whose secret sins are known to him." But Hawthorne does not let this hissing serpent either rout him or poison him. He is determined to visit the ways of life, to find the exit of the maze, and so tries every opening, unalarmed. The serpent is in all: it proves to be a deathless, large-coiled hydra, encircling the young explorer's virgin soul, as it does that of every pure aspirer, and trying to drive him back on himself, with a sting in his heart that shall curse him with a life-long venom. It does, indeed, force him to recoil, but not with any mortal wound. He retires in profound sorrow, acknowledging that earth holds nothing perfect, that his dream of ideal beings leading an ideal life, which, in spite of the knowledge of evil, he has been cherishing for so many years, is a dream to be fulfilled in the hereafter alone. He confesses to himself that "there is evil in every human heart, which may remain latent, perhaps, through the whole of life; but circumstances may rouse it to activity." It is not a new discovery; but from the force with which it strikes him, we may guess the strength of his aspiration, the fine temper of his faith in the good and the beautiful. To be driven to this dismal conclusion is for him a source of inexpressible dismay, because he had trusted so deeply in the possibility of reaching some brighter truth. No; not a new discovery;—but one who approaches it with so much sensibility feels it to be new, with all the fervor which the most absolute novelty could rouse. This is the deepest and the true originality, to possess such intensity of feeling that the oldest truth, when approached by our own methods, shall be full of a primitive impressiveness.
But, in the midst of the depression born of his immense sorrow over sin, Hawthorne found compensations. First, in the query which he puts so briefly: "The good deeds in an evil life,—the generous, noble, and excellent actions done by people habitually wicked,—to ask what is to become of them." This is the motive which has furnished novelists for the last half-century with their most stirring and pathetic effects. It is a sort of escape, a safety-valve for the hot fire of controversy on the soul's fate, and offers in its pertinent indefiniteness a vast solace to those who are trying to balance the bewildering account of virtue with sin. Hawthorne found that here was a partial solution of the problem, and he enlarged upon it, toward the end of his life, in "The Marble Faun." But it was a second and deeper thought that furnished him the chief compensation. In one of the "Twice-Told Tales," "Fancy's Show-Box," he deals with the question, how far the mere thought of sin, the incipient desire to commit it, may injure the soul. After first strongly picturing the reality of certain sinful impulses in a man's mind, which had never been carried out,—"A scheme of guilt," he argues, taking up the other side, "till it be put in execution, greatly resembles a train of incidents in a projected tale.... Thus a novel-writer, or a dramatist, in creating the villain of romance, and fitting him with evil deeds, and the villain of actual life in projecting crimes that will be perpetrated, may almost meet each other half-way between reality and fancy. It is not until the crime is accomplished that guilt clinches its gripe upon the heart, and claims it for its own. Then, and not before, sin is actually felt and acknowledged, and, if unaccompanied by repentance, grows a thousand-fold more virulent by its self-consciousness. Be it considered, also, that men often overestimate their capacity for evil. At a distance, while its attendant circumstances do not press upon their notice, its results are dimly seen, they can bear to contemplate it.... In truth, there is no such thing in man's nature as a settled and full resolve, either for good or evil, except at the very moment of execution. Let us hope, therefore, that all the dreadful consequences of sin will not be incurred, unless the act have set its seal upon the thought. Yet ... man must not disclaim his brotherhood, even with the guiltiest, since, though his hand be clean, his heart has surely been polluted by the flitting phantoms of iniquity." That is, purity is too spotless a thing to exist in absolute perfection in a human being, who must often feel at least the dark flush of passionate thoughts falling upon him, however blameless of life he may be. From this lofty conception of purity comes that equally noble humility of always feeling "his brotherhood, even with the guiltiest." What more logical issue from the Christian idea, what more exquisitely tender rendering of it than this? "Let the whole world be cleansed, or not a man or woman of us can be clean!" was his exclamation, many years later, in that English workhouse which he describes in a heart-rending chapter of "Our Old Home" called "Outside Glimpses of English Poverty." And it was then that he revealed the vast depth and the reality of his human sympathy toward the wretched and loathsome little foundling child that silently sued to him for kindness, till he took it up and caressed it as tenderly as if he had been its father.
Armed with these two perceptions, of the good that still persists in evil persons, and the deep charity which every one must feel towards even the most abject fellow-being, Hawthorne moves forth again to trace the maze; and lo, the serpent drops down, cowering. He has found a charm that robs sin and crime of their deadly hurt, and can handle them without danger. It is said by some that Hawthorne treats wrong and corruption too shrinkingly, and his mood of never-lessened and acute sensibility touching them is contrasted with that of "virile" writers like Balzac and George Sand. But these incline to make a menagerie of life, thrusting their heads into the very lion's mouth, or boldly embracing the snake of sin. They are indeed superior in strong dramatic and realistic effects; but, unvicious as may be their aim, they are not filled with a robust morality: they deliberately choose unclean elements to heighten the interest,—albeit using such elements with magnificent strength and skill. Let us be grateful that Hawthorne does not so covet the applause of the clever club-man or of the unconscious vulgarian, as to junket about in caravan, carrying the passions with him in gaudy cages, and feeding them with raw flesh; grateful that he never loses the archangelic light of pure, divine, dispassionate wrath, in piercing the dragon!
We see now how, in this early term of probation, he was finding a philosophy and an unsectarian religiousness, which ever stirred below the clear surface of his language like the bubbling spring at bottom of a forest pool. It has been thought that Hawthorne developed late. But the most striking thing about the "Twice-Told Tales" and the first entries in the "American Note-Books" is their evidence of a calm and mellow maturity. These stories are like the simple but well-devised theme which a musician prepares as the basis of a whole composition: they show the several tendencies which underlie all the subsequent works. First, there are the scenes from New England history,—"Endicott and the Red Cross," "The Maypole of Merry Mount," "The Gray Champion," the "Tales of the Province House."
Then we have the psychological vein, in "The Prophetic Pictures," "The Minister's Black Veil," "Dr. Heidegger," "Fancy's Show-Box"; and along with this the current of delicate essay-writing, as in "The Haunted Mind," and "Sunday at Home." "Little Annie's Ramble," again, foreshadows his charming children's tales. It is rather remarkable that he should thus have sounded, though faintly, the whole diapason in his first works. Moreover, he had already at this time attained a style at once flowing and large in its outline, and masterly in its minuteness.
But this maturity was not won without deep suffering and long-deferred hope.
If actual contact with men resulted in such grave and sorrowful reflection as we have traced, how drearily trying must have been the climaxes of solitary thought after a long session of seclusion! And much the larger portion of his time was consumed amid an absolute silence, a privacy unbroken by intimate confidences and rife with exhausting and depressing reactions from intense imagination and other severe intellectual exercise. Not only must the repression of this period have amounted at times to positive anguish, but there was also the perplexing perception that his life's fairest possibilities were still barren. "Every individual has a place in the world, and is important to it in some respects, whether he chooses to be so or not." So runs one of the extracts from the "American Note-Books"; and now and then we get from the same source a glimpse of the haunting sense that he is missing his fit relation to the rest of the race, the question whether his pursuit was not in some way futile like all the human pursuits he had noticed,—whether it was not to be nipped by the same perversity and contradiction that seemed to affect all things mundane. Here is one of his proposed plots, which turns an inner light upon his own frame of mind: "Various good and desirable things to be presented to a young man, and offered to his acceptance,—as a friend, a wife, a fortune; but he to refuse them all, suspecting that it is merely a delusion. Yet all to be real, and he to be told so when too late." Is this not, in brief, what he conceives may yet be the story of his own career? Another occurs, in the same relation: "A man tries to be happy in love; he cannot sincerely give his heart, and the affair seems all a dream. In domestic life the same; in politics, a seeming patriot: but still he is sincere, and all seems like a theatre." These items are the merest indicia of a whole history of complex emotions, which made this epoch one of continuous though silent and unseen struggle. In a Preface prefixed to the tales, in 1851, the author wrote: "They are the memorials of very tranquil and not unhappy years." Tranquil they of course were; and to the happy and successful man of forty-seven, the vexing moods and dragging loneliness of that earlier period would seem "not unhappy," because he could then see all the good it had contained. I cannot agree with Edwin Whipple, who says of them, "There was audible to the delicate ear a faint and muffled growl of personal discontent, which showed they were not mere exercises of penetrating imaginative analysis, but had in them the morbid vitality of a despondent mood." For this applies to only one of the number, "The Ambitious Guest." Nor do I find in them the "misanthropy" which he defines at some length. On the contrary, they are, as the author says, "his attempts to open an intercourse with the world," incited by an eager sympathy, but also restrained by a stern perception of right and wrong.
Yet I am inclined to adhere to the grave view of his inner life just sketched. When his friend Miss Peabody first penetrated his retirement, his pent-up sympathies flowed forth in a way that showed how they had longed for relief. He returned constantly to the discussion of his peculiar mode of living, as if there could be no understanding between himself and another, until this had been cleared up and set aside. Among other things, he spoke of a dream by which he was beset, that he was walking abroad, and that all the houses were mirrors which reflected him a thousand times and overwhelmed him with mortification. This gives a peculiar insight into his sensitive condition.
The noiseless, uneventful weeks slipped by, each day disguising itself in exact semblance of its fellow, like a file of mischievous maskers. Hawthorne sat in his little room under the eaves reading, studying, voicelessly communing with himself through his own journal, or— mastered by some wild suggestion or mysterious speculation—feeling his way through the twilight of dreams, into the dusky chambers of that house of thought whose haunted interior none but himself ever visited. He had little communication with even the members of his family. Frequently his meals were brought and left at his locked door, and it was not often that the four inmates of the old Herbert Street mansion met in family circle. He never read his stories aloud to his mother and sisters, as might be imagined from the picture which Mr. Fields draws of the young author reciting his new productions to his listening family; though, when they met, he sometimes read older literature to them. It was the custom in this household for the several members to remain very much by themselves; the three ladies were perhaps nearly as rigorous recluses as himself; and, speaking of the isolation which reigned among them, Hawthorne once said, "We do not even live at our house!" But still the presence of this near and gentle feminine element is not to be underrated as forming a very great compensation in the cold and difficult morning of Hawthorne's life.
If the week-day could not lure him from his sad retreat, neither could the Sunday. He had the right to a pew in the First Church, which his family had held since 1640, but he seldom went to service there after coming from college. His religion was supplied from sources not always opened to the common scrutiny, and it never chanced that he found it essential to join any church.
The chief resource against disappointment, the offset to the pain of so much lonely living and dark-veined meditation was, of course, the writing of tales. Never was a man's mind more truly a kingdom to him. This was the fascination that carried him through the weary waiting-time. Yet even that pleasure had a reverse side, to which the fictitious Oberon has no doubt given voice in these words: "You cannot conceive what an effect the composition of these tales has had upon me. I have become ambitious of a bubble, and careless of solid reputation. I am surrounding myself with shadows, which bewilder me by aping the realities of life. They have drawn me aside from the beaten path of the world, and led me into a strange sort of solitude ... where nobody wished for what I do, nor thinks or feels as I do." Alluding to this season of early obscurity to a friend who had done much to break it up, he once said, "I was like a person talking to himself in a dark room." To make his own reflection in a mirror the subject of a story was one of his projects then formed, which he carried out in the "Mosses." With that image of the dark room, and this suggested reflection in the mirror, we can rehabilitate the scene of which the broken lights and trembling shadows are strewn through the "Twice-Told Tales." Sober and weighty the penumbrous atmosphere in which the young creator sits; but how calm, thoughtful, and beautiful the dim vision of his face, lit by the sheltered radiance of ethereal fancies! Behind his own form we catch the movement of mysterious shapes,—men and women wearing aspects of joy or anger, calm or passionate, gentle and pitiable, or stern, splendid, and forbidding. It is not quite a natural twilight in which we behold these things; rather the awesome shadowiness of a partial eclipse; but gleams of the healthiest sunshine withal mingle in the prevailing tint, bringing reassurance, and receiving again a rarer value from the contrast. There are but few among the stories of this series afterward brought together by the author which are open to the charge of morbidness. In "The White Old Maid" an indefinable horror, giving the tale a certain shapelessness, crowds out the compensating brightness which in most cases is not wanting; perhaps, too, "The Ambitious Guest" leaves one with too hopeless a downfall at the end; and "The Wedding Knell" cannot escape a suspicion of disagreeable gloom. But these extremes are not frequent. The wonder is that Hawthorne's mind could so often and so airily soar above the shadows that at this time hung about him; that he should nearly always suggest a philosophy so complete, so gently wholesome, and so penetrating as that which he mixes with even the bitterest distillations of his dreams. Nor is the sadness of his tone disordered or destructive, more than it is selfish; he does not inculcate despair, nor protest against life and fate, nor indulge in gloomy or weak self-pity. The only direct exposition of his own case is contained in a sketch, "The Journal of a Solitary Man," not reprinted during his life. One extract from this I will make, because it sums up, though more plaintively than was his wont, Hawthorne's view of his own life at this epoch:—
"It is hard to die without one's happiness; to none more so than myself, whose early resolution it had been to partake largely of the joys of life, but never to be burdened with its cares. Vain philosophy! The very hardships of the poorest laborer, whose whole existence seems one long toil, has something preferable to my best pleasures. Merely skimming the surface of life, I know nothing by my own experience of its deep and warm realities, ... so that few mortals, even the humblest and weakest, have been such ineffectual shadows in the world, or die so utterly as I must. Even a young man's bliss has not been mine. With a thousand vagrant fantasies, I have never truly loved, and perhaps shall be doomed to loneliness throughout the eternal future, because, here on earth, my soul has never married itself to the soul of woman."
The touch about avoiding the cares of life is no doubt merely metaphorical; but the self-imposed doom of eternal loneliness reveals the excess of sombreness in which he clothed his condition to his own perception. One may say that the adverse factors in his problem at this time were purely imaginary; that a little resolution and determined activity would have shaken off the incubus: but this is to lose sight of the gist of the matter. The situation in itself,—the indeterminateness and repression of it, and the denial of any satisfaction to his warm and various sympathies, and his capacity for affection and responsibility,— must be allowed to have been intensely wearing. Hawthorne believed himself to possess a strongly social nature, which was cramped, chilled, and to some extent permanently restrained by this long seclusion at the beginning of his career. This alone might furnish just cause for bitterness against the fate that chained him. It was not a matter of option; for he knew that his battle must be fought through as he had begun it, and until 1836 no slightest loophole of escape into action presented itself. It lay before him to act out the tragedy of isolation which is the lot of every artist in America still, though greatly mitigated by the devotion of our first generation of national writers. If he had quitted his post sooner, and had tried by force to mould his genius according to theory, he might have utterly distorted or stunted its growth. All that he could as yet do for himself was to preserve a certain repose and harmony in the midst of uncertainty and delay; and for this he formed four wise precepts: "To break off customs; to shake off spirits ill disposed; to meditate on youth; to do nothing against one's genius." [Footnote: American Note-Books, Vol. I.] Thus he kept himself fresh and flexible, hopeful, ready for emergency. But that I have not exaggerated the severity and import of his long vigil, let this revery of his show, written at Liverpool, in 1855: "I think I have been happier this Christmas than ever before,—by my own fireside, and with my wife and children about me; more content to enjoy what I have, less anxious for anything beyond it in this life. My early life was perhaps a good preparation for the declining half of life; it having been such a blank that any thereafter would compare favorably with it. For a long, long while I have been occasionally visited with a singular dream; and I have an impression that I have dreamed it ever since I have been in England. It is, that I am still at college,—or, sometimes, even at school,—and there is a sense that I have been there unconscionably long, and have quite failed to make such progress as my contemporaries have done; and I seem to meet some of them with a feeling of shame and depression that broods over me as I think of it, even when awake. This dream, recurring all through these twenty or thirty years, must be one of the effects of that heavy seclusion in which I shut myself up for twelve years after leaving college, when everybody moved onward, and left me behind." Experiences which leave effects like this must bite their way into the heart and soul with a fearful energy! This precursive solitude had tinged his very life-blood, and woven itself into the secret tissues of his brain. Yet, patiently absorbing it, he wrote late in life to a friend: "I am disposed to thank God for the gloom and chill of my early life, in the hope that my share of adversity came then, when I bore it alone." It was under such a guise that the test of his genius and character came to him. Every great mind meets once in life with a huge opposition that must somehow be made to succumb, before its own energies can know their full strength, gain a settled footing, and make a roadway to move forward upon. Often these obstacles are viewless to others, and the combat is unsuspected; the site of many a Penuel remains untraced; but none the less these are the pivots on which entire personal histories turn. Hawthorne's comparatively passive endurance was of infinitely greater worth than any active irruption into the outer world would have been. It is obvious that we owe to the innumerable devious wanderings and obscure sufferings of his mind, under the influences just reviewed, something of his sure and subtle touch in feeling out the details of morbid moods; for though his mind remained perfectly healthy, it had acquired acute sympathy with all hidden tragedies of heart and brain.
But another and larger purpose was not less well served by this probation. The ability of American life to produce a genius in some sense exactly responding to its most distinctive qualities had yet to be demonstrated; and this could only be done by some one who would stake life and success on the issue, for it needed that a soul and brain of the highest endowment should be set apart solely for the experiment, even to the ruin of it if required, before the truth could be ascertained. Hawthorne, the slowly produced and complex result of a line of New-Englanders who carried American history in their very limbs, seemed providentially offered for the trial. It was well that temperament and circumstance drew him into a charmed circle of reserve from the first; well, also, that he was further matured at a simple and rural college pervaded by a homely American tone; still more fortunate was it that nothing called him away to connect him with European culture, on graduating. To interpret this was the honorable office of his classmate Longfellow, who, with as much ease as dignity and charm, has filled the gap between the two half-worlds. The experiment to be tried was, simply, whether with books and men at his command, and isolated from the immediate influence of Europe, this American could evolve any new quality for the enrichment of literature. The conditions were strictly carried out; even after he began to come in contact with men, in the intervals of his retirement, he saw only pure American types. A foreigner must have been a rare bird in Salem, in those days; for the maritime element which might have brought him was still American. Hawthorne, as we have seen, and as his Note-Books show, pushed through the farming regions and made acquaintance with the men of the soil; and probably the first alien of whom he got at all a close view was the Monsieur S—— whom he found at Bridge's, on his visit to the latter, in 1837, described at length in the Note-Books. So much did Hawthorne study from these types, and so closely, that he might, had his genius directed, have written the most homely and realistic novels of New England life from the material which he picked up quite by the way. But though he did not translate his observations thus, the originality which he was continuously ripening amid such influences was radically affected by them. They established a broad, irrepressible republican sentiment in his mind; they assisted his natural, manly independence and simplicity to assert themselves unaffectedly in letters; and they had not a little to do, I suspect, with fostering his strong turn for examining with perfect freedom and a certain refined shrewdness into everything that came before him, without accepting prescribed opinions. The most characteristic way, perhaps, in which this American nurture acted was by contrast; for the universal matter-of-fact tone which he found among his fellow-citizens was an incessant spur to him to maintain a counteracting idealism. Thus, singularly enough, the most salient feature of the new American product was its apparent denial of the national trait of practical sagacity. It is not to be supposed that Hawthorne adhered consciously to the aim of asserting the American nature in fiction. These things can be done only half consciously, at the most. Perhaps it is well that the mind on which so much depends should not be burdened with all the added anxiety of knowing how much is expected from it by the ages. Therefore, we owe the triumphant assertion of the American quality in this novel genius to Hawthorne's quiet, unfaltering, brave endurance of the weight that was laid upon him, unassisted by the certainty with which we now perceive that a great end was being served by it. But, although unaware of this end at the time, he afterward saw some of the significance of his youth. Writing in 1840, he speaks thus of his old room in Union Street:—